The House is organized after deal between GOP and the Bush Caucus, details unclear

It’s starting to feel like the early 2010s around the Alaska Legislature!

The Senate is helmed by a bipartisan supermajority led by Senate President Gary Stevens and now the House has put together a mostly Republican majority with the help of the Bush Caucus.

Heading off what could have developed into a lengthy standstill, the House has officially elected House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, with the help of the four members—two Democrats and two independents—of the Bush Caucus (though even more voted for her in what may have been a bit of confusion). It’s a familiar arrangement with a significant difference: The Bush Caucus helped push the Republicans over the top into the majority, giving them significant leverage.

The vote apparently came together quickly ahead of the Wednesday’s floor session and currently sees the House form around a 23-member House majority with 19 Republicans, two Democrats and two independents. That leaves Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, the former speaker who had reportedly been pushing toward a Republican coalition with independents, and the toxic Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman, who’s been kicked out of the GOP minority twice in past sessions.

The nominations for speaker saw a flurry of last-minute action: Rep. Calvin Schrage (who would later become the new minority leader) nominated Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who declined; Rep. Andrew Gray nominated Stutes; Rep. Zack Fields nominated Rep. Justin Ruffridge; Eastman nominated Rep. Ben Carpenter, who declined.

The nominations gave us a good look at just how disjointed the negotiations have been, and in that disjointedness the Bush Caucus—Reps. Bryce Edgmon, Neal Foster, Josiah Patkotak and CJ McCormick—struck their deal with the Republicans.

Just what the balance of power will look like was not immediately clear and by the sounds of it, it wasn’t even all that clear to legislators involved in the deal. What we know is the Bush Caucus is in a strong position and I’d imagine at least one—if not both—co-chairs of the Finance Committee would be part of the deal.

As far as statements after the announcement, Tilton said that the caucus is focused on the “fiscal stability” of the state and that details such as who holds what committee spot will be determined sometime today.

“Every one of you know it’s in the best interest of the Legislature that we follow the rules, work in a fair process, treat each other with respect and respect ourselves,” Tilton told the House after the speaker vote.

I’ve yet to see any official communication out of the new House majority, but the minority coalition has already put out a statement from newly minted Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage.

“We look forward to working with fellow legislators on our priorities, including meaningful additions to the Base Student Allocation to ensure all of Alaska’s students have access to quality education, bolstering recruitment and retention of Alaska’s workers, investing in critical infrastructure, and charting a long-term fiscal plan that will set Alaska on a course for prosperity,” he said in the prepared statement. “We are committed to working together with other members of the House, the Senate, and all Alaskans on those goals.”

Why it matters: The Bush Caucus is likely to keep a lid on just how much the Republicans can get up to with the budget and programs affecting rural Alaska, but it’s going to mean that Republicans will hold the committee chairs for the first time since 2017. That means a load of far-right legislation on everything from dictating how transgender students can play sports to repealing the state’s ranked choice voting system are all likely to get plenty of attention in the House this year.

The Senate with its controversy-adverse bipartisan supermajority will likely play backstop to the most ghastly of legislation, but there’s still totally the possibility that the nine Democrats over there could get steamrolled at the finish line.

On the other hand, the House Democrats have refreshed their bench with a lot of smart, young and progressive faces that certainly won’t make things easy for Republicans moving forward.

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