Capital Perspectives: Legislature may not be pretty, but it works

By Amy Hundertmark
Special to the Sun Star

As all political science majors know, in order to graduate we must write a senior thesis or participate in the Legislative Internship. Opportunities like the UA Legislative Internship are few and far between so I decided that I should use this chance to learn firsthand how Alaska’s government works.

I knew that I wanted to work in Rep. David Guttenberg’s office. I had always heard good things about him as a politician and a person. University funding is a huge concern for me and since Rep.Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, represents District 8 (which includes the university) I knew that he would be working to ensure the university’s future. After an initial phone interview with the representative, I spoke with his aides, Meredith Cameron and Chris Birdsall (both UAF alumni), and accepted the offer to work in their office.

Upon arrival in Juneau I realized that my learning curve was going to be very steep. I had to learn things quickly in order to keep up with the whirlwind pace of the legislature. After learning the basics, I was able to slow down a little and watch how things happened in committees, which has been the most fascinating part of this internship. The committees are where a bill’s fate is determined. Some bills are heard quickly and sometimes they sit in committee until the end of session, which kills the bill until the following legislative session.

Sometimes there are several bills on the same topic waiting for hearings. It is up to the chairman of a committee to decide which bill should be heard and moved out of committee. The topics of these bills have led me to discover that: 1) the oil tax structure is an ongoing battle that will never be won; and 2) everyone in the legislature has a different idea about when the gas line should be built, who should build it, how it should be done and where it should go. I have also learned that sometimes a bill without any apparent negative impact will meet opposition in a committee because the chairman and the bill’s sponsor don’t get along.

The UAF Life Sciences Building is a very important project to Fairbanks. This project seemed like a shoe-in when the Board of Regents presented it as the only project that they wanted to have considered this year. It progressed to the next step when the governor put it in his operating budget, but the operating budget has met some opposition which jeopardizes the Life Sciences Building. The Life Sciences Building would benefit all the UA campuses and has their unanimous support, yet it is still met with resistance.

This internship has opened my eyes to the realities of how our government works. The only way it resembles the government we read about in textbooks is in its structure. The realities of government that I have discovered through this internship are positive and have increased my confidence in our state’s government. Alaska’s government works very well even though it may look dysfunctional on the surface. I recommend this internship for anyone that wishes to get hands-on experience and knowledge about our state’s government.

Reports from Juneau: This is the third in a series of opinion pieces by UAF students who are participating in the legislative process. Amy Hundertmark is a political science major spending the semester in Juneau as part of the UA Legislative Internship program.

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