Anchorage Rep. Tarr is out of the House Coalition over committee dispute

Rep. Geran Tarr speaks during a committee hearing on March 18, 2020.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr has left the majority House Coalition, reducing its membership to just a plurality of representatives.

After rumors began circulating on Wednesday, Tarr informed House Speaker Louise Stutes via letter that she would not be a part of a majority “whose critical leadership roles were extracted by threats to leave the caucus and join the Republican caucus.” A copy of the letter, which had been circulating outside of the building, was obtained by The Midnight Sun.

It’s the latest turn in what is becoming an even messier organization than the one after the 2018 elections, but doesn’t appear to mark the end of the House Coalition’s hold on the majority. Tarr said she would still support the adoption of the House’s committee assignments, the last step before the House can finally get to work, in return for a vote on extending the disaster declaration (something that was likely to happen anyways) and a fair shot for her public safety legislation.

Stutes met the defection with the same open-door message she’s had for Republicans as she’s worked to expand her majority past the 21 it had with Tarr and the addition of moderate Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick.

“The founding principle of the Alaska House Coalition is that we should focus on the things that bring us together and work on our many areas of agreement. We are all dedicated to the health and welfare of Alaskans, support extending the public health emergency declaration, and will always fight for critical improvements to public safety policy,” Speaker Stutes said in a prepared statement. “I am committed to finding a place for Representative Tarr to fight for these values and to champion her district within our coalition. Forming a divided government body is never easy, but we’ll get the job done together.”

Tarr’s dissatisfaction with the House organization seems to center on independent Utqiaġvik Rep. Josiah Patkotak getting the first sole chairmanship of the House Resources Committee in nearly 30 years. Tarr had been co-chair of the committee for two sessions running. Patkotak was originally thought to be a potential Republican ally before he decided to stick with fellow rural legislators, but has signaled a friendliness to Republicans in a few recent votes.

It’s not entirely clear how things for the House proceed from here. While they may be able to adopt the committee assignments, it will leave the House Coalition with just 20 members and reliant on securing votes from Tarr, independent Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen (who announced her defection from the conservative Republican caucus late Tuesday) or the 18-member minority Republican caucus.

Tarr’s letter

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