Can the House Majority stick together?
That appears to be the major undercurrent of the State Legislature as it enters overtime in the legislative session with historic fiscal issues still to be decided.
The state house majority, currently made up of all the elected Republicans, except the banished Rep. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River), and a cadre of rural Democrats is showing cracks in their solidarity.
On a number of critical bills and issues a faction consisting of the rural Democrats and several Republicans including Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage), Jim Colver (R-Palmer), Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks), Paul Seaton (R-Homer), and Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) appear to be breaking off from the Majority leadership. On the key issues of reducing oil and gas tax credits, restructuring of the permanent fund, and implementing a state income tax many of that bunch have voted for or made clear they supported a position more in line with that of the Democrat minority or Gov. Bill Walker, than their own leadership.
Some legislative watchers have even noted the actions have the look and feel of a potential bipartisan ruling coalition in the next legislature.
Brad Keithley of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets said exactly that when this group banded together with House Democrats to approve by one vote Gov. Walker’s nominee for the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation Board, Fairbanks Mayor Luke Hopkins. That was a nomination overwhelmingly opposed by Senate Republicans, the House Majority leadership, and the Alaska Republican Party.
Keithley tweeted this out about the vote:
Legislative watchers aren’t the only ones who appear to have noticed the fragmentation of the majority coalition. In the last week the Alaska Republican Party has been ramping up pressure to bring the rogues back into line.
Monday the Party included a veiled threat to find internal ways to punish representatives “who may be creating unholy alliances.” That threat was then followed up Tuesday with multiple party district chairs sending letters to Rep. Jim Colver (R-Palmer) threatening unspecified ramifications if he continue to work with Democrats.
Sources told the Midnight Sun that party leaders behind the scenes spent the week trying to apply similar pressure to another Republican rogue, Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks).
Now several Republican sources have told the Midnight Sun of word being circulated through the halls of the Capitol that party leaders have recruited a primary challenger to Rep. Gabrielle Ledoux (R-Anchorage). That challenger, sources say, is expected to file their letter of intent with the Alaska Public Office Commission as early as Monday.
It’s unclear to what degree the pressure party and caucus leaders are exerting will influence their colleagues heading into the fall elections.
LeDoux had already raised an impressive $65K for her re-election before the end of 2015 and is known as a hard working and formidable campaigner. Any new challenger will likely face a steep uphill fight to unseat her. Rep. Thompson is a well known and popular former Mayor of Fairbanks so unseating him too would be a challenge.
Rep. Colver may be the most vulnerable of the bunch. He represents an unwieldy district that stretches from Palmer to Valdez and then runs up the Richardson Highway to Fort Greely. The district has a history of three-way races with Culver himself beating out previous incumbent Eric Fiege by just 327 votes in a three way race just two years ago.
This arm twisting on the part of the Alaska GOP Establishment could be a significant factor in the outcome of many of these big ticket, but unresolved issues. Their success or failure may determine the outcome of the legislative session.