Day 3: The House has elected its speaker
But just what the majority will look like has yet to be determined.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 3 of the legislative session.
Here’s the takeaways from the day: The House has elected Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton as its speaker for this session, following a deal between Republicans and the four-member Bush Caucus that left a lot of people confused about just what the deal is. We’ll get more details today. While it’s a familiar arrangement, the Bush Caucus members have more leverage this time around given their membership makes it a majority. Let’s take a look at the Senate Committee situation and where the trio of non-majority members are. The Anchorage Assembly is launching a series of meetings about the allegations against Mayor Dave Bronson and could consider “safeguarding” the city against whatever legal liability he’s incurred.
Current mood: 🤔
Programming note: When I rushed into this plan of morning memos, I didn’t quite realize how awkward it’d make it with breaking news like the eleciton of the speaker (or that it’d overlap with a break from caffeine). I’m curious about when you’d like to see this newsletter arrive in your inbox. Here’s a poll, if you don’t mind:
The House is organized after deal between GOP and the Bush Caucus, details unclear
It’s starting to feel like the early 2010s around the Alaska Legislature!
The Senate is helmed by a bipartisan supermajority led by Senate President Gary Stevens and now the House has put together a mostly Republican majority with the help of the Bush Caucus.
Heading off what could have developed into a lengthy standstill, the House has officially elected House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, with the help of the four members—two Democrats and two independents—of the Bush Caucus (though even more voted for her in what may have been a bit of confusion). It’s a familiar arrangement with a significant difference: The Bush Caucus helped push the Republicans over the top into the majority, giving them significant leverage.
The vote apparently came together quickly ahead of the Wednesday’s floor session and currently sees the House form around a 23-member House majority with 19 Republicans, two Democrats and two independents. That leaves Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, the former speaker who had reportedly been pushing toward a Republican coalition with independents, and the toxic Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman, who’s been kicked out of the GOP minority twice in past sessions.
The nominations for speaker saw a flurry of last-minute action: Rep. Calvin Schrage (who would later become the new minority leader) nominated Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who declined; Rep. Andrew Gray nominated Stutes; Rep. Zack Fields nominated Rep. Justin Ruffridge; Eastman nominated Rep. Ben Carpenter, who declined.
The nominations gave us a good look at just how disjointed the negotiations have been, and in that disjointedness the Bush Caucus—Reps. Bryce Edgmon, Neal Foster, Josiah Patkotak and CJ McCormick—struck their deal with the Republicans.
Just what the balance of power will look like was not immediately clear and by the sounds of it, it wasn’t even all that clear to legislators involved in the deal. What we know is the Bush Caucus is in a strong position and I’d imagine at least one—if not both—co-chairs of the Finance Committee would be part of the deal.
As far as statements after the announcement, Tilton said that the caucus is focused on the “fiscal stability” of the state and that details such as who holds what committee spot will be determined sometime today.
“Every one of you know it’s in the best interest of the Legislature that we follow the rules, work in a fair process, treat each other with respect and respect ourselves,” Tilton told the House after the speaker vote.
I’ve yet to see any official communication out of the new House majority, but the minority coalition has already put out a statement from newly minted Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage.
“We look forward to working with fellow legislators on our priorities, including meaningful additions to the Base Student Allocation to ensure all of Alaska’s students have access to quality education, bolstering recruitment and retention of Alaska’s workers, investing in critical infrastructure, and charting a long-term fiscal plan that will set Alaska on a course for prosperity,” he said in the prepared statement. “We are committed to working together with other members of the House, the Senate, and all Alaskans on those goals.”
Why it matters: The Bush Caucus is likely to keep a lid on just how much the Republicans can get up to with the budget and programs affecting rural Alaska, but it’s going to mean that Republicans will hold the committee chairs for the first time since 2017. That means a load of far-right legislation on everything from dictating how transgender students can play sports to repealing the state’s ranked choice voting system are all likely to get plenty of attention in the House this year.
The Senate with its controversy-adverse bipartisan supermajority will likely play backstop to the most ghastly of legislation, but there’s still totally the possibility that the nine Democrats over there could get steamrolled at the finish line.
On the other hand, the House Democrats have refreshed their bench with a lot of smart, young and progressive faces that certainly won’t make things easy for Republicans moving forward.
The daily schedule
Not a whole lot today
House floor at 2 p.m.
The Select Committee on Legislative Ethics also meets at 2 p.m. with what looks to be a basic start-of-the-year hearing, but the Senate subcommittee also has a 3 p.m. executive session on the schedule.
House Committee on Committees will meet at 2:30 p.m., which is where we should get a good look at how all the bargaining played out.
The Midnight Sun Memo by Matt Buxton is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.
The Senate committees
A reader requested a clear list of Senate Committee assignments in one place, so I’ve put that together for your perusing.
What’s interesting to note, though, is that just one of the three-member minority has a committee assignment at all. That’d be North Pole Republican Sen. Robb Myers, who is the least pugnacious of the three, with an assignment to the Senate Transportation Committee. When asked about it at the Senate Majority’s news conference on Tuesday, Senate President Gary Stevens said he’d be open to conversations, but also suggested that they shouldn’t expect much.
“We wanted to get them involved but there’s some concerns about what’s been going on,” Stevens said. “We did appoint one person to Transportation, I think that’s a good substance. We’d be open to the other two to other committees, maybe not as substantive. That’s something we can revisit and I’m hoping we can. If things work, if we feel like these are senators that we can work with then we can appoint them to meaningful committees as time passes.”
In a follow-up with the Alaska Beacon, Stevens said the majority was particularly concerned with the bad-mouthing of other senators that Sens. Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes have been doing on talk radio and public media. Hughes said she didn’t think crossed a line and Shower still hasn’t responded or arrived for session.
Community and Regional Affairs Committee
Senator Dunbar, Chair
Senator Olson, Vice Chair
Senator Tobin, Chair
Senator Stevens, Vice Chair
Senator Stedman, Cochair
Senator Hoffman, Cochair
Senator Olson, Cochair
Health and Social Services Committee
Senator Wilson, Chair
Senator Kaufman, Vice Chair
Senator Claman, Chair
Senator Kiehl, Vice Chair
Labor and Commerce Committee
Senator Bjorkman, Chair
Senator Bishop, Vice Chair
Senator Bishop, Cochair
Senator Giessel, Cochair
Senator Wielechowski, Vice Chair
Senator Wielechowski, Chair
Senator Stedman, Vice Chair
State Affairs Committee
Senator Kawasaki, Chair
Senator Claman, Vice Chair
Senator Kaufman, Chair
Senator Wilson, Vice Chair
Anchorage Assembly may rein in Bronson
The Anchorage Assembly has announced a pair of meetings—one for tonight and Friday—to review the allegations against Anchoarge Mayor Dave Bronson that were first outlined in the 11-page letter from former City Manager Amy Demboski as well as the continued reporting from the Anchorage Daily News and others. Closed-door executive sessions are on the agenda for both meetings so the Anchorage Assembly can get candid legal advice from their attorneys.
“Following the briefing from counsel,” said Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance in the prepared statement, “Assembly leadership intends to bring forward legislative and financial items for action on Friday to protect the immediate interests of the Municipality by safeguarding the finances, assets, workforce and reputation of the Municipality. I am committed to maintaining our focus on good governance and ensuring that critical municipal services continue.”
More details on the meeting and links to the hearings can be found here.
The Bronson administraiton has yet to publicly respond to the allegations.
The Midnight Sun Memo by Matt Buxton is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.