On the first day of the 33rd Alaska Legislature, the State Senate smoothly and flawlessly organized their large super majority. Comprised of 17-members, they have so many senators the remaining three Republican senators are two short of having a recognized minority.
Senator Mike Shower (R – Wasilla), one of those three, was not present today in Juneau for the swearing in. He did not respond to a text message asking why he was absent. During an afternoon press conference, Senate President Gary Stevens (R – Kodiak), along with several other senators, said they did not know where he was, but heard it was possibly due to a family matter.
The Senate majority is not obligated to give any of the remaining three Republicans seats on committees because they don’t have the numbers to be a real minority. However, they did put Senator Robb Myers (R – North Pole) on the Transportation Committee, which he chaired the last two years. He is the only one of the three that was put on a standing committee.
Shower and Senator Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer) were both given seats on special committees, Joint Armed Services and World Trade, respectively. Those committees rarely meet. At the afternoon press conference, Stevens said committee assignments could change if Hughes and Shower show they are willing to work with everyone. The relationship between the veteran Republican senators in the majority and Shower and Hughes has been contentious the last four years.
Here is the report that shows what senators sit on which standing committees.
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) January 17, 2023
The House is a completely different story. Once all 40 members were sworn in, a speaker pro tempore had to be elected per the Uniform Rules. A speaker pro tempore takes the gavel from the lieutenant governor – who is responsible for administering the oath of office – and presides until a permanent speaker is elected. They have no other power. Normally, this is a formality. For comparison, Senator Click Bishop (R – Fairbanks) was elected Senate President pro tempore today and presided for just over two minutes before Stevens was officially elected Senate President. That is how it is supposed to work.
In 2021 it took several weeks to even elect a speaker pro tempore in the House. However, today Representative Josiah Patkotak (I – Utqiagvik) was unanimously elected speaker pro tempore. Patkotak was elected speaker pro tempore in 2021 after weeks of deadlock. Representative Louise Stutes (R – Kodiak) was eventually elected speaker after now-Senator Kelly Merrick (R – Eagle River) broke the weeks long 20-20 deadlock. But the votes were not there today to elect a permanent speaker.
Before Patkotak was elected, Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna) was nominated by Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage) to be speaker pro tempore. There was talk in the Capitol during the day that Ruffridge, who is palatable to Democrats and Independents, was going to be elected speaker pro tempore, but a vote for him never took place.
It’s noteworthy that the every Republican ended up voting for Patkotak. As soon as Patkotak got 21 votes, every member voted for him. Patkotak, who is pro-resource development and represents the oil rich North Slope, is key member in determining if the coalition will stay intact or if House Republicans will take back power for the first time in six years. The Republicans are doing all they can to entice Patkotak to join them.
For the third time after an election, the House does not have a majority on the first day of session. After some debate, the House agreed to adjourn until tomorrow morning at 10 am. Sources on both sides say a deal is unlikely to materialize tomorrow.
Republicans have 21 members in the House, but that includes Stutes – who has been part of the coalition the last six years – and Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla), who has been a barrier in the past to Republicans forming a majority. Patkotak and Representative Dan Ortiz (I – Ketchikan) are likely coalition members who could join with Republicans to form a majority, but there is apprehension of being in a narrow majority that could easily fall apart.
It’s hard to say how long it will take the House to organize a majority. But if the last four years are any indication, it could be several weeks.