JUNEAU — In a day that included discussion on oil taxes, a natural gas pipeline, capital spending, a toll bridge to Anchorage and the governor’s omnibus crime bill, the Legislature took some time Tuesday to ponder what constitutes rude and immature behavior.
With 12 full days left in the regularly scheduled session, House leaders and Interior Republicans held a news conference to call out Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki for making faces during the previous night’s House floor debate.
The Capitol had been buzzing Tuesday morning about printed screenshots from “Gavel-to-Gavel Alaska” video coverage of the House debate that show Kawasaki sticking out his tongue and puffing out his cheeks while House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, made a rare floor speech in support of House Bill 4, a bill about an in-state natural gas pipeline. Kawasaki later cast a “yes” vote for the bill.
In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Interior delegation chairman Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, and other majority caucus members said Kawasaki’s actions didn’t represent the Interior.
“Rep. Scott Kawasaki does not speak for us,” Higgins said. “The floor of the Alaska House is sacred, and his conduct last night was patently inexcusable and disrespectful.”
During debate Monday night, Republicans joked on the floor about passing gas and made references to rear ends, but Higgins, a freshman lawmaker, said disrespectful behavior doesn’t belong.
“If I’m the one doing that, take me to task, because I would never do that. ... I would never disrespect anyone on the floor ever, for any reason,” he said.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, denied knowledge of the jokes. Wilson said Kawasaki’s required a rebuke because of the speaker’s position and the content of the bill.
House Bill 4 continues work on the small-volume, in-state natural gas pipeline, what some see as a long-term goal to solving the Interior’s energy woes.
Wilson said Kawasaki’s behavior might jeopardize a natural gas trucking proposal that many have considered a sure-pass in the Legislature.
“This was not a statement from the Interior delegation, that’s what we’re here today to do,” she said of Kawasaki’s actions and the subsequent news conference. “Do I wait until trucking doesn’t pass and we hear because of things that happened, or do we be proactive?”
When asked who suggested the trucking bill could be at risk, Wilson declined to comment.
Nothing was made Monday night of Kawasaki’s actions on the House floor. Interior delegation members said some residents of Chenault’s district complained of Kawasaki’s behavior.
The photos had been circulated to the media by the speaker’s press secretary, Will Vandergriff.
This isn’t the first time during the session that HB4 has been associated with complaints about inappropriate conduct. Chenault’s office made headlines earlier this year when his chief of staff referred to an email from the city of Valdez, opposing HB4, as a “a crock of s---.”
Kawasaki said he wasn’t notified of or invited to the Interior delegation news conference Monday but attended and apologized for his comments once the other members departed for meetings.
“I want to say that my actions on the House floor were inappropriate,” he said. “I apologized to the speaker and the Rules chairman, and I also owe an apology to my fellow members. It was not against the speaker’s bill, which I voted for. My actions and my decorum were inappropriate.”
Kawasaki said he was playing to the cameras at the end of a nearly four-hour floor debate that wrapped up after 11 p.m.
“I stuck my tongue out at the camera,” he said. “It was pretty late at night. We’re a pretty jovial group, we like to have fun and we like to have fun at ourselves. ... It had nothing to do with the speaker’s bill.”
The gas trucking legislation isn’t in danger because of his actions, he said.
Kawasaki said he already had also been rebuked by his own party, including Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kerttula also attended the news conference. She called Kawasaki’s actions out of line but said the attention was “overblown.”
When reached in the hallway after the meeting, Chenault laughed off the incident. Asked if his feelings were hurt, he said, “What feelings?”
Chenault said he wasn’t personally offended by Kawasaki’s actions but felt they dishonored the House.
The House is scheduled to gavel out April 14.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.