State Rep. Cathy TIlton, R-Wasilla, takes to gavel from State Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, after she is elected speaker of the Alaska State House on Wednesday. She was elected by a 26-14 bipartisan vote, but the initial majority consists of 19 Republicans and four members of the Bush Caucus. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Rep. Cathy TIlton, R-Wasilla, takes to gavel from State Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, after she is elected speaker of the Alaska State House on Wednesday. She was elected by a 26-14 bipartisan vote, but the initial majority consists of 19 Republicans and four members of the Bush Caucus. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tilton elected House speaker in unusual vote

Wasilla Republican elected by 26-14 bipartisan vote, but initial majority has 23 members

This story has been updated to include additional information

Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, is the new speaker of the Alaska House after being chosen by a bipartisan 26-14 vote Wednesday, the second day of the legislative session, but the makeup of what appears to be the first Republican-led majority since 2017 remains an unknown that may not match the leadership vote.

The initial majority consists of 19 of the 21 Republicans elected in November, plus the four Democratic and independent members of the Bush Caucus, Tilton told reporters immediately after the floor session adjourned. That excludes members who voted for her, including Juneau Democrat Andi Story, former Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, who presided over the previous bipartisan coalition, and David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican, who’s frequently been at odds with party leadership.

State Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, meets with representatives Cliff Groh, D-Anchorge, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, during a break in the House floor session Wednesday. Story was one of two Democrats to vote for Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, as speaker, although the Juneau lawmaker is not part of the current majority.(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, meets with representatives Cliff Groh, D-Anchorge, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, during a break in the House floor session Wednesday. Story was one of two Democrats to vote for Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, as speaker, although the Juneau lawmaker is not part of the current majority.(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Story, in an interview shortly after the vote, said she supported Tilton because it became clear she had the votes to be speaker. The local representative, who was part of the previous bipartisan majority, said she does not expect to become part of the current coalition.

“I voted for her because I wanted to work with everybody,” she said.

When asked if her vote came with the hope of better committee assignments as a minority member, Story said she’s open to options that are discussed, without stating specifics. She also stated the makeup of the current majority may affect the chances of some legislation she considers a priority getting passed, but is still evaluating that situation.

Juneau’s other Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan, also a member of the previous majority, voted against Tilton as speaker.

In a contrary twist, Rep. Conrad “C.J.” McCormick, a Bethel Democrat, voted against Tilton although as a member of the Bush Caucus was included in those named as belonging to the new majority. He did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

The House vote for Tilton avoids another long standoff for the House at the start of the session. A stalemate in 2019 took 31 days to resolve and another in 2021 took 24 days.

Her selection occurred after a nearly hour-long floor session consisting almost entirely of at eases during which various groups of lawmakers clustered to confer in the aisles and entrance to the chamber. Several names were nominated, which either were withdrawn after further at-ease discussions or the person named declined the nomination.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, right, talks with Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, during one of numerous breaks in the state House floor session Wednesday. Both Patkotak, serving as the speaker pro tem during the session, and Eastman, who frequently has been at odds with party leadership, voted for Tilton as speaker. But while Patkotak is among four Bush Caucus members in the current majority, Eastman is excluded. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, right, talks with Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, during one of numerous breaks in the state House floor session Wednesday. Both Patkotak, serving as the speaker pro tem during the session, and Eastman, who frequently has been at odds with party leadership, voted for Tilton as speaker. But while Patkotak is among four Bush Caucus members in the current majority, Eastman is excluded. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tilton, who was the minority leader during the previous session and was seeking a Republican majority this year, said the makeup of initial majority has been a long-evolving process that essentially came together Tuesday. But that didn’t prevent Wednesday’s politicking.

“Any time there’s an election of a speaker there’s going to be a difference of opinion and people trying to put votes on the board, and that’s what was happening there,” she said.

As to whether any additional representatives opt to join the new majority, “I think that’s going to be a little bit of time to flush out,” Tilton said.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent who voted in favor of Tilton, told the Anchorage Daily News he may be interested in joining the majority, while political blog The Alaska Landmine reported “several new majority members don’t seem to know who is in the majority when asked.”

Selected as the new minority leader following the floor session was Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent serving his second term who stated during the days before the session he was open to joining a Republican-led majority. In a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon, he said “we are committed to working together with other members of the House the Senate, and all Alaskans.”

“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.

The next step for the House is a Committee on Committees that will determine assignments, with the naming of the finance co-chairs and rules chair likely to be among the indicators of which key members of the current majority were promised in return for supporting Tilton. The finance committee controls the budget and virtually all meaningful legislation, while the rules committee determines which bills reach the floor.

“I can safely say you’ll be able to see that tomorrow,” Tilton said.

The inclusion of the Bush Caucus is perhaps the most notable element, since the 21 Republicans in the House were unable to form a working majority during the months of discussions after the election. The caucus consists of former Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent and past House speaker, Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat, Josiah Patkotak, an Utqiaġvik independent, and McCormick.

The caucus aligned with the bipartisian majority during the past two sessions, but Tilton said Republicans were able to offer an agenda that attracted the four lawmakers back into a previous alignment.

“The Bush Caucus has been in the majority with the Republicans several years previous to this,” Tilton said. “There was a little bit of time they were not. We are aligned on a lot of issues and a lot of this is issue based.”

Aside from noting “I think we can agree a priority this session is to deal with the financial stability of Alaska,” Tilton declined to state what promises were made to Bush Caucus members in return for their support.

“We don’t have any promises now that I can share with the group,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

Most Read