Alaska House organizes, but without a clear majority

Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes, on the dais in the center, presides over the House floor session on Feb. 18, 2021, in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. The House organized, including naming committee members of its standing committees, during the session. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media via AP, Pool)
Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes, on the dais in the center, presides over the House floor session on Thursday in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. The House organized, including naming committee members of its standing committees, during the session. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House of Representatives organized on Thursday, but without either caucus able to claim most of the members. 

The committee membership was approved in a 22-17 vote. This allows the House to begin doing legislative business — 31 days into the session. But two of those who voted for the committees say they won’t caucus with the coalition that has been the majority over the last two years. 

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, talks to reporters after voting to form House committees on Thursday in the Alaska State Capitol. She will be a House Finance Committee member, but isn't joining either caucus. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO & Alaska Public Media)
Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, talks to reporters after voting to form House committees on Thursday in the Alaska State Capitol. She will be a House Finance Committee member, but isn’t joining either caucus. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO & Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen said she won’t caucus with either side. Rasmussen said it will be unusual to not have a caucus with a majority of members. 

“I think it’s kind of unprecedented, but it gives us an opportunity to have my voice — my district has a voice at the table,” she said. “And I’m hoping that … with compromise, we’ll be able to get some good policy moved forward.” 

She said she’ll stick to her conservative principles and what she campaigned on. She opposes any income tax or large increase to the taxes paid by oil companies. She said she would support changing the permanent fund dividend formula to make it more sustainable. 

 She will hold one of the majority seats on the influential House Finance Committee. 

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr also said she won’t join a caucus. Tarr was in the same caucus as the other Democrats in her first eight years in the House. She wrote in a letter to House Speaker Louise Stutes that members became leaders by threatening to join the Republican caucus and that joining Stutes’ group would violate her “commitment to honorable public service.”

Tarr was co-chair of the House Resources Committee for the last four years. But she was not named to the position again. Utqiagvik independent Rep. Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak will be the chair. It’s the first time the committee will not have co-chairs in 26 years.  

Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, said she’s confident she will have the 21 votes needed for procedural matters necessary for the House to function. She declined to say who the 21st vote would be. 

“I would rather talk people than numbers,” she said, adding: “We are open. We are working to create a good bridge between House members. And so I’m hoping as time goes by, we’ll all come together.” 

Stutes said most members in her caucus are aligned on not drawing more than is planned from the permanent fund’s earnings reserve. While the majority over the last two years was committed to not do that, Stutes was less definitive. She said the House Finance Committee will have a major say in it. 

“I think that that would probably like to be the hope of most people,” she said. “Whether it’s within the realm of possibility, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Finance comes up with.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck will be the majority leader, while Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton will be the minority leader. 

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster and Eagle River Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick were named the co-chairs of the House Finance Committee. Dillingham Rep. Bryce Edgmon, an independent nominated by the Democrats, will chair the Rules Committee, which determines which bills receive floor votes.

House committees are expected to start their work in the coming days. 

 

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