TMS: Legislature should postpone politicking and get to work

The House chambers. (Photo by aa440/Flickr Creative Commons)

From the desk of The Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt.

The Alaska House and Alaska Senate will gavel into session in less than a week on January 19th.  But as of right now, no one knows who will lead either chamber.  

In all likelihood, a Republican will helm the Senate. But it’s an open question whether the majority will be made up entirely of Republicans or through a coalition with Democrats.  

The outlook for the House, on the other hand,  is far more murky, cleaved evenly down the middle. There are 20 Republicans, and another 20 members, most of them Democrats, who have banded together behind current speaker, Bryce Edgmon. This is the coalition that lost Chuck Kopp, Jennifer Johnston, Gary Knopp, Steve Thompson and Bart LeBon over the last election cycle to defeat, death and defection, respectively.  But it has also picked up support from newly elected representatives.

Those close to the Legislature don’t expect that the House will have an majority formed by the beginning of the session in a few days. The Republican Party’s willingness to attack its own members over bipartisan governance has chilled the kind of coalition-making that is necessary to organize a majority. What’s more, neither side wants to govern through a razor-thin bloc of just 21 members. Both want an “effective majority” of 25 or more representatives.  

Speaker Edgmon is likely having many conversations a day trying to assemble a coalition. However, I have an alternative suggestion to the haggling and horse-trading currently underway.

On Tuesday the 19th, Edgmon should gavel in the start of the session and, as the leader of a group of 20, announce that he is standing for Co-Speaker, then provide a slate of committee co-chairs and committee membership from his 20 member coalition. Afterwards, he must ask the Republican bloc to propose their own co-speaker, co-chairs and committee membership. And then, they ought to simply get to work.

Between the pandemic, Governor Dunleavy’s dissolution of essential government services, the insurrectionary unrest at the Capitol and its aftermath, there are many good reasons to begin work by just beginning.  I suspect some entrenched partisans like Eastman, Vance, and Carpenter, to name a few, will throw performative hissy fits that help no one but themselves.  

But until there is an actual majority, lawmakers should postpone politicking by simply getting to work.

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