Senator Olson’s move to majority leaves Democrats in vulnerable position

Rep. Neal Foster, left, and Sen. Donny Olson during a discussion of legislative priorities with the City Council and the pubic in Nome. (Photo via KNOM)
Rep. Neal Foster, left, and Sen. Donny Olson during a discussion of legislative priorities with the City Council and the pubic in Nome. (Photo via KNOM)

The Senate Majority got a little bit bigger last week when Democrat Donny Olson announced his move from the minority. Born in Nome, Senator Olson represents all of Northwest Alaska.

He said concerns about budget cuts convinced him to switch over.

“I was called by a number of constituents that were concerned about things like education, things like public safety, things like corrections, things like behavioral health and health and social services,” Olson explained.

Olson said his constituents are worried about how his region might fare as the legislature continues to whittle down the state’s budget.

He’s keeping an eye on the Power Cost Equalization, or PCE, program that helps people afford the high cost of energy in rural Alaska.

Another supporter of PCE is Senator Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, the only other democrat in the majority. Olson said he hopes adding another voice from the bush might balance things.

“Because right now it looks to people from the outside that… people that are looking out for their services and their districts either in Fairbanks or Anchorage,” Olson said, “and it just seems to be a little lop-sided.”

Olson’s departure leaves the minority in a vulnerable position. Down to just 4 democrats, the minority is now at risk of losing committee seats. According to the legislature’s rules, a member of the minority is only entitled to a seat on a committee if the group makes up at least 25 percent of the total house membership. Without Olson, the minority makes up only 20 percent of the Senate.

Minority Leader Berta Gardner says she’s disappointed to lose Olson, but recognizes his need to act in the best interest of his district.

Olson’s move to the majority allows him increase the size and salary of his staff.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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