By Dan Fiorucci
Channel 2 News
6:49 PM PDT, March 23, 2012
Lawmakers in Juneau are feeling the pressure, with less than 23 days left in the session. Time is running out for them to deal with important issues such as changing the way oil companies are taxed, considering whether an in-state gas pipeline should be built, determining funding for education and passing an overall budget.
When that happens, the partisanship can get a little bitter -- and the work environment can turn tense.
That's why 25 years ago a far-seeing legislator, state Sen. Tom Kelly, organized a weekly bowling night for lawmakers. He wanted a lawmaking environment that was competitive but not mean-spirited.
"Kelly had a great idea," says James Armstrong, a Capitol budget coordinator. "He wanted to get everybody away from the building and have some fun. He started the first-ever Legislative bowling league and it's lasted -- this is its 25th anniversary."
Throughout this 27th gathering of the Legislature, lawmakers -- and their aides -- have been meeting at Taku Lanes in Juneau each Thursday night. It's a place where jokes can be traded across party lines, as Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) bantered with Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski).
"See? I'm outnumbered even here!" Gara said at Taku Lanes, laughing.
Chenault agrees that all those years ago, Kelly had a great idea when he brought lawmakers together like this.
"It's good comradeship," Chenault says. "It gives us a way to blow off steam during -- and we just enjoy coming down and bowling and getting out of the building."
But don't let Chenault's good-natured manner fool you. He's competitive and an excellent bowler, who's been known to rack up a few perfect games by bowling scores of 300 -- and Gara's bowling ability isn't far behind.
After this night on the town, the Democrats and Republicans will once again be political rivals back inside the Capitol -- but the weekly strikes and spares remind them that ultimately, they're on the same team.
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