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Alaska Legislature

House deadlock won’t interfere with Dunleavy’s State of the State speech, lawmakers say

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 21
  • Published January 21

An Alaska Department of Administration employee shovels snow in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Six inches of snow fell on Juneau on Sunday, and more fell early Monday morning. (James Brooks/ADN)

JUNEAU — The leadership deadlock in the Alaska House of Representatives will enter its second full week Tuesday, but lawmakers say it will not delay Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address, his first since beginning his term in December.

The address is scheduled for Tuesday evening, but the House’s ongoing deadlock has meant it has not formally accepted the governor’s request that lawmakers meet in joint session to hear it.

After a press conference Monday morning, Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said she expects that the House’s Tuesday morning floor session will include a vote to accept the governor’s request. Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, also said that is the plan. But Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, was more cautious, saying that he was still talking with Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, about the appropriate means to schedule the governor’s address.

Under the Alaska Constitution, the governor has the ability to call the Legislature into joint session if the House balks. That isn’t expected to happen; multiple lawmakers from both sides of the House said they are prepared to invite the governor to give his address.

“It’s going to happen,” said Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue.

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, was standing with Lincoln in a Capitol hallway and said she agreed.

Lawmakers expect the governor’s address will reveal some of the thinking behind his budget proposal. In a normal year, lawmakers have a first draft in hand at the start of the session, and final drafts are due in mid-February.

This year, with the change in governors and Dunleavy expected to present a radically different budget from previous Gov. Bill Walker’s, lawmakers don’t know what to expect.

“I think we’re all looking for his plan,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage. “We’ve heard that there’s going to be some transformational new approaches on delivery of state services; we’re all anxious to see what that looks like.”

Talerico said negotiations to resolve the leadership deadlock in the House are still ongoing, and lawmakers are remaining cordial. This is the third time in state history that the Legislature has failed to elect a speaker of the House on the first day, and thus far the impasse is shorter than it was in 1963, when it lasted eight days, or in 1981, when it lasted more than three weeks.

Though business in the Senate continues unimpeded, work in the House is largely on hold. Lawmakers cannot introduce legislation or advance it through the legislative process.

Twenty-one votes are needed in the 40-person House to elect a speaker, but the two main camps in the House lack those votes. One group of Republicans has 20 votes. The remaining members of last session’s coalition majority — including Republicans, Democrats and one independent — have 19 votes. Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, is not in either camp.

The stakes are significant: The group that controls the speakership controls committee assignments and the agenda for the legislative session. Republicans already control the Senate and the governor’s office; control of the House would give them absolute control. If a coalition controls the House, it would force Republicans to compromise with Democrats and independents on legislative issues.

The House’s internal rules require lawmakers to take nominations for a permanent speaker and hold a vote by the session’s eighth day, which is Tuesday. No candidate is likely to get a majority, lawmakers believe, which will extend the leadership deadlock. Lawmakers could waive that rule.

Formal House meetings are not possible without a House leader and formal committees, but Wilson said Democrats and Republicans have agreed to a series of informal informational meetings regarding the budget and the Alaska economy. She said five Democrats and five Republicans will be running those meetings, and all other lawmakers will be available to attend because no committees are operating.

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