JUNEAU — Alaska’s new Speaker of the House said Monday that a swing-voting Eagle River Republican has joined a new majority in the state House and may be one of two leaders of the House Finance Committee. But that Republican, Rep. Kelly Merrick, was noncommittal.
As the House attempts to emerge from a three-week leadership deadlock, the situation remained confusing and uncertain.
House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, told reporters that Merrick is a member of the majority and that the majority includes 21 votes, enough to control the 40-person House.
“Everything’s pliable, but as it stands right now we have Rep. Merrick and Rep. Edgmon as our co-chairs of finance,” Stutes said, referring to former Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, is envisioned as the coalition’s majority leader, Stutes said.
None of those positions is firm until approved by the Legislature’s Committee on Committees, whose report must be confirmed by a majority vote in the House.
Last week, Merrick provided the tiebreaking vote to elect Stutes Speaker of the House. At the time, she said she would not be joining a coalition government led by Stutes.
Asked whether she is a member of the coalition, she did not answer.
“I’m working closely with with Republican Speaker Louise Stutes to form a functional, diverse caucus with many Republicans in key leadership positions,” Merrick said.
“My intent is to have everybody in the state represented, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat or an independent,” Stutes said.
Instead of considering whether to join the majority, Republican members of the House were meeting Monday night to talk about what positions they might fill in a minority organization.
Asked whether any other Republicans might follow Merrick, Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, said, “At this point, no. It’s going to be hard.”
So far, a 21-member majority hasn’t been visible. During a Monday floor session, only 20 votes were cast in Stutes’ favor during a procedural action. The item passed because it required only a majority of the lawmakers present, and Republican Reps. Bart LeBon, Steve Thompson and Laddie Shaw were absent.
Asked whether she will be a co-leader of the finance committee — the panel that controls the state budget — Merrick said only that the House’s Committee on Committees has not yet met.
Asked whether the intention is to place her atop the committee, she said, “I haven’t been aware of any intention for anyone’s positions. Everything is open and negotiable.”
Since December, the House has been split 20-20 between a bloc of Republicans and a bloc that includes 15 Democrats, 4 independents and Stutes, the lone Republican. Members of the coalition have been offering committee seats to various minority Republicans as an incentive to cross the aisle.
Merrick said the next step in the House is “for the committee on committees to convene, and try to come up with a functioning group. We’re working closely with both groups of legislators and we’re going to try to give every opportunity for folks to fill leadership positions.”
“I can’t say how long it’ll take,” Merrick said. “I know that Alaskans have asked us to get to work. So the sooner the better.”