Alaska House elects a Speaker after more than a month of gridlock

The Alaska House of Representatives finally has a speaker after more than a month of gridlock that left Juneau unable to begin action on a new governor’s agenda.
 
State Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who earlier this week changed his voter affiliation from the Democratic Party to undeclared, won the 21 votes necessary to become Speaker.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Edgmon served as speaker in the last session, also a coalition government run by Democrats, independents and two Republicans.
 
The coalition Edgmon will now lead will include at least five, and as many as seven, Republicans.
 
One of those Republicans — state Rep. Chuck Kopp (R) — will serve as majority leader.
 
The new coalition is a blow to Republicans, who hold 23 of the 40 seats in the state House.
 
Two of those Republicans were members of last session’s coalition, bringing the GOP’s majority down to 21 out of 40 seats. 
 
One Republican, state Rep. Gary Knopp (R), refused to vote for a Republican speaker over concerns a one-vote majority would hand too much power to any one member of his party.
 
Knopp’s reluctance led to more than half a dozen tied votes for speaker. Earlier this week, Knopp said he would finally vote to elect a Republican speaker — but then voted for himself when another member nominated him.
 
Without a permanent speaker, the state House was unable to form committees, elect committee chairmen or begin considering legislation. 
 
But now that the House is on track to become functional again, they seem poised to present a problem for Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R).
 
Elected in 2018, Dunleavy has proposed steep budget cuts of $1.8 billion in hopes of reining in Alaska’s burgeoning deficit.
 
In a presentation Wednesday, Dunleavy said he wanted to cut more than 600 state jobs, and millions of dollars from the state Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services.
 
Now that Democrats hold a significant stake in the governing coalition, those cuts are likely to become a focal point of conflict for the remainder of the legislative session.