Easter was on April Fool’s Day this year, and Good Friday was chosen as a great time to feature the Annual Legislative Skits that began decades ago as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party.
The show, which features staff making fun of their bosses, is now unaffiliated to any political organization but gives money to worthy causes in Juneau.
Being a people watcher myself, familiar with this Juneau tradition, I went to observe what I knew would be The Beautiful People in all their glory.
I don’t begrudge a once funny Saturday Night Live television show–which over the years has become less funny. My sense of humor has ripened as I seek subtlety and double entendre over blatant ribald comedy. That’s not SNL’s fault; their advertisers are looking for a different customer base than cheap-skate old guys with good memories. These Legislative Skits use an SNL format to make fun of the Legislature as an institution, to humorously portray familiar legislative situations from the past 74 days of Session, and to take some cheap shots at legislators they could be certain would not be in attendance.
On the other hand, some political wonks regard being featured in the skits as a complement–certain legislators need to be mocked for their own good–while not being mentioned at all is considered a sleight. This is in line with the theory that any media recognition is good for an elected official as long as they spell his or her name right.
I had to learn from a legislative page exactly where the event would be held, and time I needed to be there because it was not promoted publically. As a sanctioned event, he said the Legislative Affairs Agency bought a $200 table seating eight for pages.
The theme was “Academy Awards,” and he was looking forward to it.
I could only find one staffer who wanted to go to it, and he had bought a table to support the charity. I watched the show with a cold eye; parts of it were very good, and parts fell flat.
It is possible that 360north.org “Gavel-to-Gavel” coverage of the legislature has become an Alaska soap opera; it cannot be a Reality Show. Calls come into our legislative office from constituents who are very tuned into what is going on in committees and on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. Thanks to the Legislative BASIS system they are able to track bills and hear what changes are made in committees, before deliberation on the floor and either passage over to the Alaska Senate for consideration, or failure.
This has to be a good thing for our republic.
When Alaskans voted to move the capital out of Juneau during the 1980s, the act of doing that physically was thwarted by a committee dedicated to showing how much it would cost. No committee has since formed to show how much it has cost to keep the capitol in Juneau.
The argument then was that technology could provide access equivalent to actually being here. Don’t you believe it!
The band began the evening’s festivities with a song called “Learning to Lie.” It was an appropriate beginning given our state’s current economic situation and legislative coalitions grandstanding on how to address the challenge before returning home to face voters. From the song: Well some say cut, and some say spend; some say raid, some say defend. If I tell the truth, I’ll lose my fans, but I think I have a plan. I’m learning to lie and double down, so I don’t get run out of town. I’m learning to lie about these things because the truth really stinks.
Another song about Sen. Mia Costello, who originally supported the crime bill SB 91, assigned motives to her change on that support: This law needs repealing Mia can’t you see? Girl, we just can’t tolerate lower sentencing. When you told me it’s not safe at night, you convince me to move further right.
I look at this kind of change by an elected official as instructional; they must respond to concerns from voters who elected them to represent their districts in Juneau. On the other hand, being in Juneau and subjected to the influences inherent in this place, creates a dichotomy for anyone elected to represent interests of their districts when here.
These skits demonstrated this dilemma.
There is no pretense of fairness or balance; everybody conservative is fair game, anyone liberal gets a pass. To really be balanced the organization of these theatrical antics should have to feature skits by thespians of equal conservative/liberal persuasions. I don’t know if the liberals could tolerate such a balance and I don’t know if conservatives would care to present mockery of political opponents in this kind of forum.
From what I understand after talking to others after the show, these skits were much tamer than in past years, but I have to say they were mostly one-sided.
It could have been worse, but establishing half of the skits presented by liberals and half by conservatives would be much more interesting.
Donn Liston first went to Juneau as a legislative aide in 1983 and remained there 20 years. After becoming certified as a classroom teacher in 2003 he and his wife returned to Anchorage where he taught primarily Adult Basic Education until 2017 when he accepted a position as staff to the representative from Eagle River. This column is intended to be instructional and provide insight into how our state government is run through the eyes of someone who has watched it from various perches over decades. To reach Donn, email: email@example.com.