Four days before the 28th Legislature is due to convene, Rep. Lindsey Holmes switched parties from Democrat to Republican on Saturday, joined the House Republican caucus and was rewarded with a seat on the Finance Committee.
The switcheroo, rare but not unheard of, gives the Republican-led caucus a supermajority of 30 and leaves the 10-member Democrat minority with only two seats on Finance. With three Democrats already picked for the powerful committee, the minority will have to meet and decide who gets kicked off, said spokesman Mark Gnadt.
Holmes, 39, is an attorney and has represented West Anchorage as a Democrat since 2006. She was just re-elected in District 19 in November, easily beating conservative Republican Anand Dubey, 4,199 to 3,419. While registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the district three to two, the majority are independents and they appear to lean strongly Democratic. The district turned out for Barack Obama, giving him 4,126 votes to Mitt Romney's 3,855.
"I'm shocked and disappointed," said Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat whose Senate District J encompasses House Districts 19 and 20. Though he and Holmes have frequently talked politics and legislation in the past, she didn't alert him that she was switching parties, French said.
Holmes, in Juneau already like most legislators, didn't return a message left on her mobile phone. In a prepared statement, she said she shared a "common vision for Alaska" with the House majority, but didn't mention any specifics.
Holmes grew up in the district and graduated from West High School.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said Holmes faxed her change of party registration to the Division of Elections Saturday just before she made her pitch to be accepted by the majority caucus. Chenault said he had known for a "couple days" that she was considering asking to join the caucus and had been speaking to Republican legislators about the switch. She left the room so the caucus could discuss her membership in private, then it voted to accept her, Chenault said.
Chenault said Holmes didn't have to pledge to vote for any piece of legislation to be accepted by the caucus.
Several Bush Democrats are members of the Republican-led majority caucus -- an Alaska legislative tradition -- but in the House, such bipartisanship usually stops at the Railbelt. Chenault said he didn't know how his membership would have voted on accepting Holmes had she not changed parties.
Democrats responded sharply.
"Rep. Holmes has deceived the voters of her district," Democratic Party Chairman-Elect Mike Wenstrup said in an emailed statement. "She should have been honest about her intentions. If she intended to serve as a Republican, she should have run as a Republican."
Wenstrup said he was confident the district would send a Democrat to Juneau in the next election. Kay Brown, the party's executive director, said there's already talk of starting a recall against Holmes.
House Democrats had picked Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage and Reps. David Guttenberg and Scott Kawasaki, both Fairbanks, to serve on the Finance Committee, a key assignment. The committee will be the main venue for debate on oil-tax legislation and is the place where earmarks for capital projects around the state get written into the budget.
But with the Democratic caucus dropping from 11 members to 10, it loses a seat on the Finance Committee under House rules. No Republican had to give up a seat for Holmes, but now Democrats are faced with the unpleasant task of taking away a plum assignment from a legislator. Gnadt, the spokesman, said that would likely happen at the next caucus meeting before the Jan. 15 start of the legislative session.
Call reporter Richard Mauer at 257-4345 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By RICHARD MAUER