Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak, an independent newly elected to Alaska’s Arctic state House seat, said Thursday that he will stay with fellow members of the “Bush Caucus,” a group of rural lawmakers that in recent years has been a key part of the House’s majority coalition.
His decision gives support to House’s other independents and Democrats, who hope to reconstitute the coalition that has controlled the House since 2016.
Patkotak is replacing Rep. John Lincoln, I-Kotzebue, who did not run for re-election. Lincoln had been a member of the coalition, but Patkotak was considered a potential member of a Republican-led majority. During his campaign, he received contributions from people who traditionally back Republicans.
Unofficial results show Republicans elected 21 lawmakers to the state House this year, the bare minimum for control in the 40-person House.
Those 21 Republicans are divided on budgetary issues and have been unable to unite. Had Patkotak signaled his intent to join them, it would have increased the likelihood of a Republican-led House by providing an additional vote.
Patkotak said he prayed for several days before his choice. In an interview with KOTZ-AM in Kotzebue, he said he is concerned about the endowment that subsidizes rural power prices and the petroleum property tax that pays for much of the North Slope’s local government. He reiterated those concerns Thursday.
Some Republicans have expressed support for diverting money from the tax and the endowment. Rural residents have opposed those proposals.
“I think the best place with me right now is sticking with the Bush Caucus of legislators that have that common goal,” he said.
Attention now falls on three Republicans who formerly served as members of the coalition. Reps. Bart LeBon of Fairbanks, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Steve Thompson of Fairbanks have not publicly stated their intentions since the election.