Alaska House of Representatives works toward developing a majority

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 4:16 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Alaska House of Representatives continues to work toward organizing, after first convening on January 19th.

In order to discuss legislation and conduct the business of state, the legislative body must first appoint a Speaker of the House and establish a majority caucus. In order to have a majority, a caucus must contain 21 members of the 40-member House.

According to a press release from Alaska House Republicans, their caucus unanimously backed Republican District 2 Representative Steve Thompson as their nominee for Speaker of the House on February 5th. However, his nomination failed in a vote of 20 to 20.

On Thursday, the House appointed Josiah Patkotak as Pro Tempore Speaker of the House.

Adam Wool, Democratic Representative for District 5 said this is a step in the right direction. “We took a couple weeks to do that, but he got full support from the body, and that’s a good sign.”

According to Wool, the House currently has two caucuses, each with 20 members. “We’re at a 20-20, so one person, at least, has to move from one caucus to the other, or 21 people have to form a new caucus. However you want to look at it, we need 21 to appoint a speaker and to have a majority and to start our business.”

One current caucus is composed of 20 Republicans, with the other containing all of the House’s 15 Democrats, one Independent, and 3 Not-Affiliated Representatives, as well as 1 Republican, Louise Stutes.

Republican District 1 Representative Bart LeBon said he would like to see a caucus form that contains 24-25 members or more. “That’s a good workable majority. If you can get to 21, you could certainly form a majority caucus, it’s stronger if you can get a few more representatives.”

Wool explained that the 2018 House organization saw a delay as well. “Two years ago we were at a standoff for about a month,” he said.

“From what I’m told, this doesn’t happen every two years. Normally there’s a defined majority that has 21 or more votes, and a defined minority, and it’s sort of right after the election this organization happens, November 4th or 5th, and a lot of these committee assignments happen then.”

These impasses, according to Wool, end for a variety of reasons. “Ultimately, I think what it’s going to be is a combination of people getting frustrated with views, perhaps in their own group, that they can’t agree on things, and enticements from the other group.”

LeBon said that to bridge these divides, “You offer up leadership positions, or chairmanships of committees, in the hope that that entices 4 or 5 representatives to join your caucus, and each caucus, within their own internal workings, identifies which leadership positions and committee chairmanships they’re willing to share with members from the other caucus.”

Wool said that on February 15th, Governor Mike Dunleavy’s emergency declaration will expire, and Wool is in favor of extending it, at least for a period of time. “This has a lot of implications for healthcare providers, for COVID testing, COVID vaccines, a lot of the things that made those services available was due to the emergency declaration, so we really have to deal with that by February 15th.”

The lack of an organized majority is also preventing the House from discussing the budget. Wool said, “The Senate’s having finance hearings. They’re working on the business of the state, the reason that we’re down here. We can’t have meetings right now. We can’t have finance meetings. So there’s a lot of important issues coming before us this year, and we really need to get on it.”

LeBon said, “Every day we take to organize we lose another day of doing the people’s business, so we all have a sense of urgency. Time and pressure will settle this out. It did two years ago.” He added, “I remain optimistic that we’ll get it done sooner or later, and that we will find a way to organize because we must. We have no other alternative.”

The House is scheduled for its next floor session on Monday, February 8th.

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