Legislators rarely discuss vote trading openly. It’s often euphemized as “compromise” and “consensus building.”
One notable exception was a page one story in the May 19, 1991, Anchorage Daily News that laid bare a complicated back room deal tying confirmation votes on multiple unrelated board and commission appointees together. The deal fell apart in open session.
Reporters George Frost and David Postman detailed the deal’s inception from multiple legislators’ accounts of closed door caucus meetings.
This article from the Anchorage Daily News encapsulates the process that happens in the closed door legislative caucus and illustrates vote trading.
Deal falls apart
Some lawmakers depart from script
By DAVID POSTMAN and GEORGE FROST
Daily News reporters
Originally published May 19, 1991
Republished with permission
The deal cut Saturday to get a few of Gov. Wally Hickel’s commission appointments confirmed was so transparent that lawmakers might as well have been wearing buttons that said, “We’ve cut a deal.”
It was supposed to work like this: Rural Democrats would vote with Republicans so the Bush would get its way on the Board of Fisheries, and the GOP and Hickel would get who they wanted on the Alaska Public Utilities Commission and the state Personnel Board.
When the voting began in joint session, the lights lit up just that way.
But then the deal collapsed hard. Amid the political rubble was a furious Senate President Dick Eliason and charges of lies, back-stabbing, double- and triple-dealing, racism and a play for rookie of the year from freshman Rep. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage.
In the end, Hickel got most of what he wanted but failed to keep Eleanor Andrews off the state Personnel Board, which is soon to hear an ethics complaint against him.
And that made Eliason mad. He was confident he had the votes to dump Andrews.
“Three senators broke their word,” said Eliason, red-faced with anger, as he barreled through a crowd of reporters.
A little later, calmer but still grim, Eliason said, “The legislature has changed in the last 22 years. We used to be honorable.”
According to Eliason, the commitments came Saturday morning when the entire Senate minus the ill Fairbanks Democrat, Bettye Fahrenkamp met behind closed doors.
It was there that Eliason laid out the deal that had been carefully put together the past two days. He didn’t order anyone to follow the road map. He couldn’t do that if he wanted to.
But Eliason said he asked senators “in a nice way” to go along with him and Majority Leader Rick Halford, R-Chugiak.
If they didn’t think they could swallow the deal, Eliason asked the senators to leave the chambers and miss the vote.
“That was one of the options,” he said. “Just don’t show up.”
Eliason made it clear that he and the governor wanted to make sure that Andrews, a former Democratic administration official, would not be confirmed to the personnel board.
“He said he hoped people would find it in their power to tube Eleanor Andrews,” said Sen. Drue
Eliason asked the senators to raise their hands if they planned to vote for Andrews, according to Sen. Virginia Collins, R-Anchorage, who said she raised her hand and then voted for Andrews on the floor.
The legislature is not allowed to take votes in closed session,
and senators said what they did was only an informal poll.
The House seemed less worried about any specific deal. The Democrats who control the lower chamber were most concerned about the process that would be followed. They wanted to make sure they would at least get the chance to vote for some appointments that had been made by former Gov. Steve Cowper, but which had not yet been confirmed.
The first of those was a slate of nominees to the Professional Teaching Practices Commission. Hickel had said he didn’t want the Cowper appointees confirmed.
But in the deal with the Senate and the Bush, Hickel agreed to having the Cowper appointees approved. That’s the price Sen. Jay Kerttula said he extracted in exchange for supporting Don Schroer, Hickel’s nominee for the utilities commission, and the legislature approved them unanimously.
Then came a move to confirm Peter Sokolov, the Cowper appointee to the APUC. According to plan he was rejected, with the Bush and the Republicans voting against the urban Democrats.
Then Schroer, who had been rejected in joint session Thursday, came up for reconsideration.
The deal, as outlined by Eliason and Sen. Al Adams, D-Kotzebue, called for Schroer to be approved. And he was.
But not without dissent by Rep. David Finkelstein, D-Anchorage, who held his own Saturday despite catcalls, mumbles from the body, a counter-attack by veteran Anchorage Republican Rep. Ramona Barnes, and the fast gavel of Eliason, who ran the session.
Finkelstein said the Hickel administration had been trying to trade votes for the Schroer confirmation.
“I think something really insidious is going on here,” he said. “I get very suspicious as to what this administration’s motive is.”
That brought Barnes to her feet. She said House rules barred Finkelstein from impugning the motives of the administration.
Finkelstein kept on.
“Regardless of whether this administration is or is not doing that, it raises the question of why they might be doing that, if they were doing that,” he said, the chamber breaking into laughter at his attempt to skirt a direct attack on Hickel.
But Finkelstein wasn’t done. He said he thought Hickel was trying so hard to get his guy in as APUC commissioner because the commission will have authority over the gas pipeline that Hickel wants to build, and in which he has a financial interest.
The legislature then agreed to move Schroer to a consumer position and put a sitting APUC member in the engineering slot that Schroer had originally been nominated for. That took care of the concerns of Finkelstein and others, and Schroer was approved.
Retired Judge Seaborn Buckalew, as planned, was confirmed unanimously to the Personnel Board.
But the deal also called for Andrews to be rejected, and that fell apart after a passionate floor speech by Rep. Bettye Davis, a freshman Democrat from Anchorage. She said that Andrews is qualified for the job and that state law prohibits the removal of Personnel Board members unless they have done something wrong.
“This lady is quite qualified,” Davis told her colleagues. “And all the time that we are trying to get minorities on these boards, the answers that I get when I ask why you didn’t put somebody on the board, is because they’re not qualified … And if you do not confirm her to the board, it leads me to believe that there are people here with hidden agendas, and I don’t like that. So I encourage all of you to vote for Eleanor Andrews, a black woman who has proven herself and should be on this board.”
After many legislators stopped pounding their desks in approval, Rep. Terry Martin stood to protest to he didn’t know that Andrews who served in the administration while Martin was in the House was black, and that his no-vote would have nothing to do with race. Later, Martin said he didn’t even know who he was voting for and thought the nominee was Judge Elaine Andrews.
Eleanor Andrews won 34-25, three votes more than the 31 needed to confirm an appointment.
Lawmakers congratulated Davis, with Rep. Tom Moyer, D-Fairbanks, patting her on the back and saying, “Bettye, you made the difference.”
Eliason, though, accused Davis of injecting the spectre of racism in the debate “just to change a few votes.”
Davis said she only speculated that the other side might have a hidden agenda, not that the agenda was necessarily racism. “If they have a guilty conscience, they’ll have to deal with that,” she said.
In the end, Hickel’s people declared victory.
“We were after Schroer,” said Don Tanner, Hickel’s director of boards and commissions.
Hickel press secretary Eric Rehmann said it was Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, not Hickel, who really wanted to get rid of Andrews.
House Speaker Ben Grussendorf said he thought everything turned out pretty well.
Adams said he got what he wanted.
And, after a cooling-off period in the private legislative lounge, even Eliason was able to be a little philosophical about the day.
“We got our ass kicked,” he said, walking down the stairs with his arm around Attorney General Charlie Cole.