Two Bush Caucus legislators will be among a trio presiding over the budget and two veteran lawmakers returning after multi-year absences are in leadership positions of power as the Alaska State House officially adopted its leadership and committee assignments Thursday.
Also notable on a literal and political moving day for House members at the Capitol is Juneau Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan is losing her prime second-floor office space next to the speaker’s office due to her relegation to the minority coalition, but that also positioned her for a prized seat on the House Finance Committee.
The assignments came a day after Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton was elected House speaker and a 23-member majority formed consisting of 19 Republicans and four Democratic/independent members of the Bush Caucus. That means the GOP-led coalition will be more conservative than the bipartisan majorities in the House the past two sessions, and puts Hannan and fellow Juneau Democratic Rep. Andi Story in what appears to be a 15-member minority — two representatives are not currently a member of either coalition.
Tilton, during a news conference with other House leadership after Thursday’s floor session, said an area of emphasis will be bringing decorum and transparency back to the process following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we went through a period of COVID that was a time everybody was separated from each other and I think we may have lost the ability the ability to communicate with each other, so I think it’s important those communications are happening again in this building.” she said.
Among the key leadership positions, Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, will be the majority leader in his return from a four-year absence; Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, will chair the Rules Committee that controls what legislation reaches the floor after a six-year absence; and the three Finance Committee co-chairs will be DeLena Johnson, a Palmer Republican; Bryce Edgmo, a Dillingham independent; and Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat
The latter two are members of the Bush Caucus whose support was pivotal in forming the majority, and Foster acknowledged the leadership presence on the committee played a role in their support.
“Everybody would like to be on finance because they would like to steer the ship,” he said, adding he believes there is agreement among many in the Legislature that rural needs such as basic infrastructure need more attention.
Hannan, in an interview after the committee assignments were adopted during Thursday’s floor session, said there were plenty of incumbents in the previous majority with more seniority than her, but the new alignments mean her position in the minority is high enough to get one of those seats, which is rewarding for the obvious reason.
“Anything that costs a cent comes from the Finance Committee,” she said. So when it comes to a priority issue for her such as education funding “it’s good to have Rep. Story on education, but it’s good to also have a voice on finance.”
Hannan is also on the joint Ethics Committee and Legislative Council.
Moving boxes were stacked outside Hannan’s office Thursday in anticipation of a move — as were boxes outside the office next door belonging to former House Speaker Louise Stutes — although to where is still being determined by the new Rules Committee chairperson.
“The expectation I was going to have to pack up the office was always there,” Hannan said, noting the majority leader typically occupies that office, but chose not to last session.
Stutes and Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican who has often conflicted with his party leadership, are the members who are not affiliated with either the majority or minority.
Story, who was assigned to the State Affairs Committee as well as Education Committee, said “I was thrilled” about the latter since it’s been among her top issues since being elected. She said whether she’ll have to move from her fourth-floor office remains unknown.
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