“To quote the late Ted Stevens: ‘To hell with politics, I’m just going to do what’s right with Alaska,'” said Anchorage Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston. “What’s right for Alaska is that we get this House in order and we make it function. … I will be pressing the Yes button for our colleague from Dillingham.”
Johnston was joined by fellow Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp in casting the two votes needed to elect Dillingham Rep. Bryce Edgmon to his second term as the permanent speaker of the House on Thursday, the 31st day of the legislative session. Edgmon had switched his party affiliation from Democrat to undeclared on Wednesday.
The two joined the 19 members of the House coalition, a group of 15 Democrats, two Republicans and two independent representatives (including Edgmon). Additional Republicans who voted against Edgmon appear to be joining the caucus, too.
Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, was absent from the floor session. Knopp had initially backed Republican efforts to organize before stepping away to push for a sturdier bipartisan coalition. He appeared to give up on those hopes earlier in the week, but again backed away from supporting a 21-member Republican majority after he found on of its members–Rep. David Eastman–had been providing recall information to his constituents.
Eastman was one of a handful of Republicans who spoke against Edgmon’s election, noting that Republican legislators received a majority of votes in the last election and therefore due the reins of the House.
“If we’re to move forward with electing the representative of Dillingham, then we would be flying in the face of the voters in this last election,” he said. “I’d like to remind you that in this last election those representatives here that were elected as Republicans represent more than 100,000 more voters than do any other party in this body.”
The election of Edgmon allows the House to get underway with regular business like forming committees, introducing bills and assigning offices. The Legislature has been holding many informal informational meetings in the meantime, but it has been unable to take any official actions. Its biggest priority will be tackling the budget introduced by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy on Wednesday.
Though Edgmon was elected with just 21 votes it appears there are additional Republicans who will join. According to one social media report, Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson will serve as the Rules Committee Chair and Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, will serve as co-chair of the House Finance Committee with Democratic Rep. Neal Foster. Kopp is expected to become the House Majority Leader.