Highlights And Challenges

Contributed by Rep. Wes Keller

As you most likely know, I was defeated in my attempt to be elected to again serve you in the Alaska State House. It was an honor to be elected in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Thank you. It is humbling to lose, but it is also liberating. It is very nice to not be in the process of packing to move to Juneau as Gayle and I have done 17 times now. I am intact and have the things of greatest importance: peace, family, friends, and citizenship in a nation where God-given rights are protected. Short-term plans include a long list of “projects” and staying alert for opportunities that will likely come to apply the experience and skills gleaned from our years of service. 

1.    We passed HB 156! This bill is the product of the work of many and was a full two-year project. It was nicknamed the “Lazarus Bill”, because it died several times and was brought back to life, and finally became law with neither votes to spare nor the governor’s signature. Some highlights of HB 156: 

•    It put a “pause” on statewide high-stakes standardized testing (the ‘driver’ of common core). We could not ‘kill’ the tests totally because too many Alaskans fear the loss of federal education subsidies. A complete shift of control back to parents from the heavy hand of the federal government is a task left to future legislators. The law requires the State School Board to report to the new legislature with a testing plan reflecting the will of local school districts, parents and teachers. 

•    The new law confirms a parent’s constitutional and inherent right to educate their own children by their own standards. It adds new requirements for transparent policies for notifications and student withdrawal procedures. It also ensures access to content, curriculum, teachers and materials. Mostly, parental rights and responsibilities have been respected and protected in good school districts, but it is a good thing to add the protection of having it written in statute. 

•    HB 156 also closes a loophole allowing curriculum to be ‘bootlegged’ into the classroom. Ensuring local school boards approve and supervise all teachers and approve all curricula, including but not limited to those related to teaching sexual behavior prior to either a teacher or curriculum being allowed into classroom. The very intense opposition from Planned Parenthood confirms this was an essential element of HB 156. The law does not restrict education; it merely ensures ALL education is monitored and metered by local parents. 

Much of the success credit of the “Lazarus Bill” goes to my respected friend, Senator Mike Dunleavy, as we combined several of our bills. 

2.    Your PFD is temporarily safe - pending responsible legislative action. The governor’s veto simply returned the money to an account from which PFDs are written – it could not make the money available for state spending. Only the legislature can appropriate your funds. Senator Mike Dunleavy said he will introduce legislation to re-appropriate the dividends to Alaskans (the only right thing to do). This would be in addition to the 2017 PFD already quantified in Alaska Statute. It is worrisome the Supreme Court has been invited to weigh in on this issue. 

I am concerned the Supreme Court may meddle with constitutional, legislative appropriation power – thereby increasing the power of the governor even more. The most worrisome element of this issue is a seeming lack of understanding demonstrated by some legislators. Voters really need to keep pressure on their state senator and state representative, continuing to remind them of their responsibility to protect the PFD. The legislators who have committed to protect our PFD will need your help to succeed because many Alaskans are directly benefiting from state spending and are pressuring their legislator to spend – as opposed to individual PFD spending. (For more information, go to weskeller.com/who-owns-the-pfd/

3.    A state economic recession is likely in our future! The budget crisis is both real and pending. We have a staggering budget deficit. The overspending per Alaskan is far higher than in any other state – this is a critical danger indicator! We have been able to afford exorbitant spending because the revenue has been shunted directly from natural resource extraction without the safety of voting. This is a unique constitutionally created scenario I view as an unfortunate mistake. We are now between a rock and a hard place. 
We either cut spending now or we go bankrupt later. When we cut spending, there will be a short-term economic crisis. However, if we spend and go bankrupt it will be devastating. Either way, the devastation to our economy is hard to contemplate. In January, the battle continues between legislators who are taxers and spenders (those who will spend PF earnings) and those who will cut spending. 

I am not optimistic a painless solution can be found. Taking a portion of the PFD is only a short term ‘pain killer’ proven to be more addictive than opioids (easy money to backfill the budget). I believe spending more commonly owned money without the accountability of voter approval will ultimately re-define Alaska as a communistic government – something avoided by our founders with the establishment of the PFD laws. Unfortunately, we may be in a position where the majority of voters in too many districts want the short-term fix. (For more info, go to weskeller.com/overspending-worse/

4.    Our nation, the United States of America, is indeed “exceptional”. As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the freedom America has allowed and protected has impacted the world with a level of prosperity and security far exceeding anything in history. Some of our leading legislators in the new house majority have openly scoffed at our nation’s exceptionalism (on the record) and deny the connection of Alaska’s constitution to the US constitution’s founding values. 

Ironically, the perspectives of the new house majority legislators likely don’t represent the majority of Alaskans as a whole, but they are now in control of the House. I encourage you to be supportive, build a relationship with your legislators and advise them so they can best represent you. The House representative-elects will soon swear to uphold and defend the constitution of the US and the state of Alaska, and in two very short years the re-application process will begin anew for all State House and half of the state senators.

Having only two year terms is a very robust and effective term limit when voters stay informed. You need representation based on a trusting relationship, and a trusting relationship takes time. I urge your support and friendship with your legislators for the good of us all. 

Rep. Wes Keller | District 10