At least 11 of the Alaska Senate’s 13 Republicans have agreed to a majority caucus with Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche as Senate President.
No further details about the group’s organization—which has been gridlocked for months with internal disputes and rumors of FBI investigations among its members—were available as the Senate gaveled into the start of the 32nd Legislative session a little after 10:30 a.m.
There had been a lot of speculation that the more moderate Republicans might be turned off by the hardline politics of its right-wing members, who’ve demanded a full dividend and rejected the binding caucus policies typically needed to wrangle legislators around passing a budget. Without a binding caucus, it could make reaching agreement on the budget—particularly in a year where legislators will be deciding to pay a big PFD with an additional $2 billion draw on the Alaska Permanent Fund—extremely difficult.
Also at issue is the continuation of health protocols the outgoing Legislature enacted in anticipation of an unorganized Legislature. Among those measures are screenings, limited access to the building and even fines for refusing to wear a mask, which will be in place until the new Legislature fully organizes. On Monday, several moderate Democrats and Republican senators voiced grave concern about the virus’ impact on the building.
Micciche was among legislators who spent the summer attending in-person fundraisers.
Senate Democrats had been hopeful about the prospect of a bipartisan coalition but announced their own seven-member minority shortly before news of the GOP majority spread. Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich will serve again as minority leader. He struck a disappointed yet conciliatory tone in a prepared statement.
“We had many conversations with Republican members of the Senate, but unfortunately, some of those members will not put party politics aside in favor of working with Democrats in a bipartisan fashion for an Alaska agenda that seeks to help all of us recover from the difficulties of this past year,” he said. “Our state faces great challenges and we must put political differences aside. Gathering 11 votes for a budget that works for all Alaskans, establishing sustainable revenue measures, and recovering Alaska’s economy will not be an easy task for the New Majority. Nonetheless, we want Alaskans to know that we are ready to go to work, whether in the Minority or Majority, to recover Alaska’s economy, reduce unemployment, and look out for the health and wellbeing of those who have been affected most during this pandemic. That is the goal before us.”