The Alaska State Senate has formed a bipartisan majority coalition for the first time in ten years. From 2006 to 2012, the Senate was ruled by a bipartisan majority. But after the 2012 election, which was also a redistricting year, Republicans took power and have held it since.
The new majority coalition was officially announced today at a press conference held at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. It is comprised of 17 members – nine Democrats and eight Republicans. The 17 members consist of 85% of the 20-member Alaska Senate. Here is a list of leadership positions:
- Senate President: Senator Gary Stevens (R – Kodiak)
- Rules Chair: Senator Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage)
- Majority Leader: Senator-elect Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage)
- Majority Whip: Senator Click Bishop (R – Fairbanks)
- Finance Co-Chairs: Senator Bert Stedman (R – Sitka), Senator Lyman Hoffman (D – Bethel), Senator Donny Olson (D – Golovin)
- Legislative Council Chair: Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson (D – Anchorage)
Traditionally, Senate leadership has been five members (president, rules chair, majority leader, and two finance co-chairs). It has been expanded to eight members in the new majority, four Republicans and four Democrats.
The remaining three Republicans not in the new majority will be in a three-member minority: Senators Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer), Mike Shower (R – Wasilla), and Robb Myers (R – North Pole). All three are part of the current Republican majority, which will cease to exist in January when the new Legislature begins. To be a recognized minority in the Senate requires five members, but they will likely be allowed some staff and some committee assignments.
However, they will not have any members on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. That seven-member committee will be comprised of the above listed three co-chairs plus:
- Senator David Wilson (R – Wasilla)
- Senator-elect Kelly Merrick (R – Eagle River)
- Senator Jesse Kiehl (D – Juneau)
- Senator Click Bishop (R – Fairbanks)
Other key positions include:
- Health and Social Services chair: David Wilson
- Judiciary chair: Senator-elect Matt Claman (D – Anchorage)
- Education chair: Senator-elect Löki Tobin (D – Anchorage)
- Labor and Commerce chair: Senator-elect Jesse Bjorkman (R – Kenai)
- State Affairs chair: Senator Scott Kawasaki (D – Fairbanks)
- Resources co-chairs: Cathy Giessel and Click Bishop
- Community and Regional Affairs chair: Senator-elect Forrest Dunbar (D – Anchorage)
Senate Democrats picked up two seats in the recent election, taking them from seven to nine members. The last four years have been contentious in the Senate. The Republican majority has had to rely on minority Democrat votes to pass a budget, which is highly irregular. This is because of the opposition – most vocally by Mike Shower – to a caucus that has an agreement to vote for the final version of the budget. At today’s press conference, Gary Stevens said that members of the new majority will be required to vote for the final version of the budget.
Meanwhile, the House is nearly evenly divided between Republican and Democrats/Independents who favor a bipartisan majority coalition. And in one House race, Representative Tom McKay (R – Anchorage) leads Democrat Denny Wells by just four votes. There will be an automatic recount in that race. It will likely be weeks or months before the House organizes.