The House has elected freshman Rep. Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak, I-Utqiagvik, as the chamber’s temporary speaker, the first meaningful sign of progress for the chamber’s organization since the Legislature began.
The temporary speaker’s role is to oversee the chamber while the House nominates and elects a permanent speaker. It typically is a position held for a matter of minutes but given the chamber’s deadlock between a bipartisan coalition of legislators and group of party-line Republicans, it’s likely that he’ll be in the seat for a while. (Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, held the job for nearly a month at the start of the 31st Legislature.)
The election of Patkotak relieves Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer of the role as presiding officer, and ends two weeks of 20-20 votes to fill the position. Upon taking the gavel, Patkotak thanked his colleagues for the vote of confidence.
“We’ll get through whatever we’re getting through right now,” he said.
There were no nominations for permanent speaker, a sign that things still stand far from resolved in the House, and the chamber adjourned to Friday.
Patkotak was once thought to be a prime candidate to join the Republican majority given his run as an independent and support of the oil industry, but he has since pledged to remain with fellow Bush Caucus legislators, a key bloc in the bipartisan coalition, out of a desire to protect services and programs critical to rural Alaska. Following the floor session, Patkotak was joined by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, in releasing a statement affirming their commitment to stick together.
“I am humbled and honored to serve in this capacity during my first year in office, and I remain committed to the Bush Caucus as we work to achieve a permanent organization in the House. I thank God for this opportunity,” Patkotak said in the statement.
Edgmon has served as House Speaker over the last four years, elected by a majority coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
“As the first Alaska Native speaker in our state’s history,” Edgmon said in his statement. “I am encouraged to see a young leader with the skills, temperament and commitment to rural Alaska playing a leadership role as we continue to work toward a permanent organization in the House.”