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Alaska Legislature

Alaska House member ditches ‘Group of Eight,’ setting back effort to end deadlock

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 8
  • Published February 8

JUNEAU — One of eight lawmakers tasked with drafting a last-ditch plan to organize the Alaska House of Representatives has left the effort, saying he does not believe it is technically feasible.

In an opinion column published in the Anchorage Daily News on Friday, Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, said the solution created by the multipartisan “Group of Eight” isn’t workable.

“We all worked in good faith and did everything we could to move forward with this concept, but after many hours now spent, I can confidently say that I do not believe all the hurdles can be addressed,” he wrote.

Rauscher’s comments represent a setback for the leading proposal to end the deadlock in the House of Representatives if neither Republicans nor Democrats can muster a majority. Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage and another member of the Group of Eight, said Rauscher’s statement doesn’t mean the deal is dead.

“It doesn’t kill it. It’s still out there as that backstop,” Pruitt said.

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, (left) talks with Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, during a House floor session Friday. Rauscher and Pruitt were members of the ’Group of Eight ’ charged with drafting a backstop deal to end the ongoing leadership deadlock in the House. (James Brooks / ADN)

Many Republicans ran 2018 campaigns that included pledges to not join a House coalition led by a Democrat, which has added a layer of complexity to the organization process this year.

The Group of Eight — three Democrats, one independent and four Republicans — was tasked by the leaders of the divided House of Representatives to draft a proposal that would allow the House to work even if no group can muster the 21 votes needed to control the 40-person body.

The plan involves co-leaders in each significant leadership position within the House. There would be two chairmen of each committee and equal membership. If a critical bill becomes deadlocked, each side has a limited number of free passes, called “silver bullets," that would allow the legislation to advance.

Rauscher said the technical details make it impossible to implement. In the House Finance Committee, for example, there would be four chairmen and two vice-chairmen, and he doesn’t see how the committee would be able to function, let alone distribute staff resources.

Twenty Republicans control one bloc in the House. Another bloc consists of 19 members — 16 Democrats, one independent and two Republicans. Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, is a potential swing vote but has repeatedly said he believes a bare-minimum 21-person Republican majority is not sustainable and would fracture amid budget negotiations.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said the Group of Eight plan at this point “is kind of a first draft, and now both caucuses will look at it and make some suggestions from here.”

House lawmakers are still attempting to assemble a majority of some kind without the Group of Eight plan, but there are no signs of success on that front.

On Friday, House lawmakers split 20-17 on a vote to pick Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, as speaker of the House. Knopp was absent from the vote. Twenty-one votes are needed to elect a leader.

“We need to do the business of Alaska, and the first move is to elect a speaker for this body,” Wilson said.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, pointed out that Friday was the 25th day of the legislative session, setting a new record for the House’s failure to organize. (The House needed 22 days to organize in 1981. Before that, the longest impasse was eight days.)

Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, was a member of the Group of Eight with Rauscher and Pruitt. (Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, was the other Republican member.) He said he isn’t willing to propose it as a solution at this point and still hopes for a Republican-led House.

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, said the Group of Eight concept isn’t the only idea out there.

“There are other potential ways of doing something if you come to an impasse. This is just one, but we wanted to get a good, thorough understanding of this one, which has been used in other Western states,” she said.

Lawmakers face consequences if they can’t organize quickly. Gov. Mike Dunleavy is scheduled to present $1.6 billion in budget cuts at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday as part of a budget-balancing plan that preserves a high-value Permanent Fund dividend without new taxes or spending from state savings. Until a leader is selected, the House cannot hold official hearings on the budget.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, patience appears to be running thin.

“The level of frustration for me is peaking,” Revak said.

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