Morning Digest: Democratic-led coalition takes power in Alaska House, denying GOP its lone 2018 flip
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● AK State House: In a remarkable turn of events, a Democratic-led coalition in Alaska's 40-member state House elected a new speaker on Thursday, despite the fact that Republicans won a nominal 23-seat majority in November's elections. At the time, those results had appeared to spell the end of a similar bipartisan alliance that had governed the House—and give the GOP its lone pickup of a legislative chamber last year. But that outcome has now been reversed, leaving Democrats largely in control.
The three months since election night had been marked by non-stop turmoil in the House: Despite holding the most seats, Republicans simply could not find a candidate for speaker who could command a majority. In part, that was because two Republicans who'd been part of the previous coalition, Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes, resolutely voted against Dave Talerico, whom the GOP put forward four separate times.
In addition, a third Republican, Gary Knopp, also resisted Talerico, saying he felt that a 21-person caucus—where any member could effectively exercise a veto—was a recipe for failure. As a result, Talerico could only garner 20 votes each time he was nominated for speaker, one shy of the number necessary to win.
The logjam finally broke last week, though, after Democrat Bryce Edgmon, who'd been speaker for the last two years, dropped his party affiliation and formally became an independent, making it easier for him to win GOP support. A likely additional catalyst was a new budget unveiled Wednesday by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which featured breathtaking cuts across the board, including a 25 percent reduction in funding for health care and social services and a similar cut to education. Even Republicans in the legislature reacted with hostility.
In the end, a full third of the way through the legislature's 90-day session, Edgmon was elected speaker by a 21-18 vote on Thursday. Two additional Republicans, Chuck Kopp and Jennifer Johnston, gave their support to Edgmon, along with LeDoux and Stutes and the chamber's other independent, Dan Ortiz. Two more Republicans who didn't vote for Edgmon, Steve Thompson and Tammie Wilson, subsequently joined the coalition, with Thompson becoming majority leader. Knopp was absent from the vote, but he said he hopes to join the coalition, too.
That would make for a majority of 15 Democrats, two independents, and seven Republicans, an alliance that, as the Anchorage Daily News put it, is «much more likely to be an impediment» to Dunleavy's budget than a GOP-run House would have been. It's also a bitter denouement for national Republicans, who had crowed about flipping the chamber and gaining a coveted governing «trifecta» the day after the midterms. Instead, that dreamed-of trifecta is now just a memory, and progressives will retain a voice in how Alaska is run for at least the next two years.