It was a momentously happy day on the House floor when legislators greeted the Legislature’s newest member, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky.
Zulkosky, D-Bethel, is the newest appointee to the Alaska Legislature and will fill the House District 38 seat vacated by the disgraced former Rep. Zach Fansler. Zulkosky is an Alaska Native and the Legislature’s 19th woman currently serving (and the 95th woman to serve in the history of the Alaska Legislature). She was nominated by local Democrats in the smoothest appointment process of the session and picked by Gov. Bill Walker to serve the remainder of the term.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who’s the House’s first Alaska Native speaker, could hardly contain his excitement when introducing Zulkosky to the House floor. Afterward, he said it’s critical for the Alaska Legislature to more accurately reflect the diversity of the state.
Many women attended the floor session to witness her swearing in, including high-profile Alaska Native women like Health and Social Services Commissioner Commissioner Valerie Davidson and Liz Medicine Crow. After the floor session, Zulkosky approached one of the galleries to exchange hugs as some wiped away tears.
“We’re on the 53rd day of session, but this is my day one so there’s a lot to catch up on. It’s an honor to be here to represent District 38 and the friends and family and communities I’ve come to know and love since my youth,” Zulkosky said at a press conference afterward. “It’s a great honor to stand on the shoulders of giants, the women and Alaska Native women that came before me.”
Fielding questions from reporters, Zulkosky said she was not sure if she would run for reelection later this year and that she would make up her mind in the following weeks. She didn’t speak specifically about the allegations that lead the former representative to leave office, but said the addition of more women to the discussion on sexual harassment and assault is critical in making progress.
“There’s a lot of history of women and women in leadership positions, and that number continues to grow,” she said. “I think that that brings a very powerful perspective on issues related to sexual assault and harassment. It’s a really important perspective when you’re having dialogues around policy and how that can be implemented.”
Zulkosky will serve as the co-chair of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, the vice chair for the Health and Social Services Committee and as a member of the Education Committee and the Joint Armed Services Committee. Legislative aides for House District 38 have continued to serve the community during the transition, and Zulkosky personally thanked those aides for keeping the district represented.
The appointment of Zulkosky will also help ease trouble the House Majority Coalition has faced with wrangling enough votes to pass key measures. Amid sickness and illness, progress in the House has been glacial the last few weeks as the coalition has been unable to tally the 21 votes needed to move legislation. It hit a particularly embarrassing snag this week when legislation by Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck failed on a 20-18 vote.