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Alaska Legislature

Alaska Senate organization takes shape, one month from start of session

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: December 5, 2018
  • Published December 5, 2018

JUNEAU — The situation in the Alaska House of Representatives remains unclear, but the organization of the 20-member Alaska Senate is coming together after November’s elections.

On Wednesday morning, the six-member Senate Democratic minority announced its committee assignments for the coming year. That follows a similar announcement by the 14-member, predominantly Republican Senate majority on Nov. 26.

The Alaska Capitol in Juneau. (ADN archive)

Committees analyze and modify legislation before it comes to a vote of the full Senate and thus play a critical role in the legislative process. As Gov. Mike Dunleavy embarks upon an ambitious plan for his term, legislative support will be crucial to success or failure.

When the Legislature convenes Jan. 15, the Senate President will be Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage. She replaces Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who lost his race for re-election to Scott Kawasaki, a state representative who chose to run for Senate rather than seek re-election to the House.

Giessel’s majority includes all 13 Senate Republicans and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the Bethel Democrat who served in the majority during the 2017-18 Legislature.

The majority leader is Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage. Her opposite, the minority leader, will be Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. By taking that role, Begich succeeds Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who did not seek re-election. Gardner’s seat is filled by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage.

Gray-Jackson is new to the Legislature, as is Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. Kiehl is a City and Borough of Juneau assemblyman and a former staffer to Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, whom he replaces. Kawasaki is new to the Senate.

Among the members of the majority are two new senators: Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, and Chris Birch, R-Anchorage. Both served in the House before running for the Senate. Birch replaces Kevin Meyer, now lieutenant governor, and Reinbold replaces Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River.

The Senate’s rules have changed slightly: Members of the majority will no longer be required to vote in a bloc for the budget. That move accommodates Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, who did not serve in the majority last year because they favored larger budget cuts than those proposed in the final compromise.

In addition, the Senate Finance Committee now has nine members — nearly half the Senate — instead of seven.

The full membership of the Finance Committee has been announced, as have the leading members of several other committees:

• Community and Regional Affairs: Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks (chair); Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage (minority member)

• Education: Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak (chair); Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage (minority member)

• Finance: Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka (chair operating budget); Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage (chair capital budget and legislation); Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla; Bishop; Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage (minority member); Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin (minority member)

• Health & Social Services: Wilson (chair); Begich (minority member)

• Judiciary: Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer (chair); Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau (minority member)

• Labor & Commerce: Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River (chair); Gray-Jackson (minority member)

• Legislative Council: Stevens (chair)

• Resources: Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage (chair); Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks (minority member)

• Rules: Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole (chair); Begich (minority member)

• State Affairs: Shower (chair); Kawasaki (minority member)

• Transportation: Hughes (chair); Kiehl (minority member)

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