Rep. Lindsey Holmes, the West Anchorage Democrat turned Republican, says her party switch is a bit like breaking up.
"You have the hurt and anger phase, but I'm hoping we move forward, and it's Alaska first and we're all people first," Holmes said.
In her first extensive interview with the Daily News since she announced Jan. 12 that she was switching parties, Holmes said she remains committed to the same issues that got her elected from District 19 as a Democrat in November. She described herself as a "moderate Democrat" then and a "moderate Republican" now.
But Holmes acknowledged that some of the voters and contributors who supported her as Democrat are angry, and that a few have asked her to return their political contributions. She said she hasn't decided how to handle those requests, which total about $1,000.
"I'm hoping that especially the people who voted for me in the past, but for the district as a whole, that they'll stay tuned and that they'll give me the opportunity to show them that I'm still fighting for the same stuff I've told them over the last several years I'm going to fight for," she said.
As she has done before, Holmes said she made her decision to switch after the election, as she was contemplating the current legislative session. She said she might not have been "artful" when she said in an interview with KTUU Channel 2 on Jan. 12 that she had been "moving toward" a party switch "for the entire six years I've been in the Legislature." (She didn't return calls from the Anchorage Daily News that day or for several days following her announcement.)
"There's an impression out there that I planned to do this during the campaign, or that I've known for a long time that I was going to switch my party affiliation. And that is not true at all," she said. "Had I figured this out a year ago, I would've changed my party affiliation a year ago and run as a Republican."
Holmes said she believes she is philosophically closer to the Republican-led caucus on the issues most important to her and her district: ensuring energy supplies and reducing oil taxes, but only if the tax break puts more oil in the pipeline.
She was the only member of the Democratic minority last year to support the small-diameter gas pipeline from the North Slope sought by the House speaker, Rep. Mike Chenault. But she also voted against the oil-tax bill pushed Gov. Sean Parnell and Chenault, House Bill 110. Both bills died in the Senate.
On social issues, she said she remains committed to a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion, a view that puts her in opposition with some leading members of her new caucus, such as State Affairs Committee chairman Bob Lynn, who would ban abortion even in the case of rape. She said she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, like most people in her district.
"It's easy to look at the two caucuses and see certain people who are more extreme, but there are a lot of very moderate voices in the House majority caucus right now," Holmes said.
Had Holmes run as a Republican in 2012, she likely would have faced a primary battle with the conservative Republican candidate in House District 19, Anand Dubey. Though the district votes Democratic, Dubey got 200 votes more than Holmes in the primary, in which neither was opposed. She won handily in November when it counted.
Would she have lost the primary as a Republican? "Maybe, maybe not," Holmes said. "We don't have a strong tea party presence in our district."
But in any event, that wasn't part of her calculation because changing parties "wasn't something that was on my radar screen," she said.
About a month before the Jan. 15 convening of the 28th Legislature she began thinking of switching, she said.
"It was soul searching that went over the course of about three or four weeks, but it was only in the last week that I started to realize, 'Oh my gosh, this really is where I am,' and at that point, you have to figure out what you do with that information."
In the then 11-member Democratic caucus, Holmes said she sought one of three seats on the Finance Committee then reserved for the minority. The caucus voted her down.
Was she mad about that?
"For about five seconds, and then I nodded and said 'OK, I want to be on Resources.' " The caucus agreed to that and to two other committees she sought, Budget and Audit and Legislative Council, she said.
In the week before the Legislature was to convene, she flew to Juneau early and met with three members of the Republican leadership: Chenault, Majority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, and Rules Committee Chairman Craig Johnson, also an Anchorage Republican. She told them what she was thinking and asked for a Finance Committee seat, but didn't push it as a demand.
"The same way I didn't make it part of the deal with the Ds -- you give me the Finance seat or I walk -- I didn't say that to them, either," Holmes said. The leaders told her the entire caucus would have to decide, and set a meeting for Jan. 12, a Saturday.
It was a relatively easy decision to give her the Finance seat. When Holmes quit the Democrats, the minority lost a Finance seat to the Republicans. That meant the Republicans could give it to her without kicking off any of their own members.
She got no other committee seat.
With 10 members now, the Democratic minority is at the minimum under House rules for automatically getting committee assignments. Had her departure left them with nine, Holmes said, she would've thought harder about making the switch.
"That's not something I would've done lightly," she said. "That would've been a really big deal and my intention was never to hurt anybody."
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER