Stutes elected Alaska House speaker, breaking deadlock on session’s 24th day

State Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, leaves the House floor after being sworn in during the first day of the 32nd Legislative Session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 in Juneau, Alaska. Stutes was elected House speaker on Thursday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes was elected Alaska House speaker on Thursday, breaking a deadlock on the 24th day of the legislative session. 

Eagle River Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick broke the deadlock by voting for Stutes.

The vote was 21-19. 

Stutes briefly addressed the chamber after taking the gavel from temporary speaker Rep. Josiah Patkotak, an Utqiagvik independent. She said she wanted to thank members for the trust they put in her. 

“I look forward to uniting this House of Representatives,” she said. “We all need to … walk down the same side of the street. And I am very excited to be instrumental in bringing this House back together.”

But the vote didn’t resolve control over the House. 

Merrick announced that she had not joined the coalition that includes the other 20 people who voted for Stutes, leaving the House without a functioning majority caucus on Thursday.

Merrick said she felt the House could no longer delay extending Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s disaster declaration. She also said she supported a fiscally conservative budget and passing a construction jobs bill. 

However, until there’s a majority, the House won’t have committees and won’t be able to work on legislation

In November, 21 Republicans were elected to the House. Stutes announced shortly after that she didn’t plan to caucus with the other Republicans. She has caucused with a mostly Democratic majority since 2017. 

House members expressed uncertainty about what would happen next. Members who voted for Stutes say they’re optimistic. 

Anchorage Democratic Representative Chris Tuck praised both Stutes — who he described as straight-talking — and Dillingham independent Representative Bryce Edgmon (EDGE-mon), who stepped aside after four years as speaker. 

Merrick and Stutes were the only Republicans to vote for Stutes, along with 15 Democrats, two Democratic-nominated independents and two independents nominated without party nominations. All of the no votes were Republicans. 

Tuck said that Merrick’s decision to vote differently than the other Republicans was courageous. 

“Not only is it a leap of faith in who you’re supporting, but it’s also stepping out. And I think that just shows her desire to move Alaska forward,” he said. 

Under the Legislature’s rules, Stutes must appoint members by Friday to a committee that will recommend the members of all of the other committees. The entire House will then vote on the recommendations. It’s not clear when that will happen. 

Merrick and Stutes were the only Republicans to vote for Stutes, along with 15 Democrats, two Democratic-nominated independents and two independents nominated without party nominations. All of the no votes were Republicans. 

Editor’s note and correction: This story has been updated with a statement from Rep. Kelly Merrick. An earlier version of this story said Rep. Merrick’s vote will allow a Democratic majority to retain control of the chamber. This is not accurate and has been amended.

This story has been updated

 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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