With Matt Claman's narrow victory boosting Democratic numbers in the Alaska House, the Democratic minority will nearly double its representation in standing committees where bills are considered before they reach the floor.
That should reduce the chance Republican measures might be "rammed" through committees with little discussion, something that happened with House Bill 77 in 2013, said Rep. Chris Tuck, leader of the minority caucus. That bill, designed to streamline the process for issuing water and land-use permits, died in the Senate last year after receiving harsh reviews from the public.
"It's a very big deal," Tuck said of the additional Democratic seats. "It means a better process, better vetting and better information."
Claman leads Republican Anand Dubey by 91 votes for an Anchorage House seat. Claman said victory was assured Monday morning after he learned no new ballots involving his race had reached the Elections Division over the weekend.
With the state having completed three big rounds of ballot-counting since the Nov. 4 general election, additional ballots might still trickle in but they aren't expected to change Claman's lead, he said.
Dubey could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
The win feels "anticlimactic," Claman said. "It's hard to run out two weeks after Election Day and say we'll have a big celebration. But it's exciting and I'm honored."
Democrats also added to their ranks Adam Wool, who beat Republican Rep. Pete Higgins to win a seat in the Fairbanks area.
The two new representatives will boost numbers in the minority Democratic caucus from 10 to 12, reversing a steady decline in the caucus' numbers in recent years, Tuck said. There are 40 members overall in the House.
The increase means minority-caucus membership on eight standing committees will double, from one member to two, said Tuck. Those seven-member committees include Education, Transportation, and Health and Social Services.
Special committees with seven members, such as Energy, will also see Democratic caucus numbers go from one to two.
"We'll have a better opportunity to ask questions and have our voice heard," he said.
The minority caucus this year will also get a third member on the 11-member Finance Committee, said Tuck.
The minority caucus also hopes it gets a third new member overall. Non-affiliated candidate Dan Ortiz, a retired teacher from Ketchikan, leads Republican Chere Klein by 102 votes. Klein called Ortiz and conceded the race, Ortiz said.
Ortiz said Monday he wasn't sure whether he'd caucus with Democrats or with the Republican majority, a group that also includes four Democrats from rural Alaska. Ortiz said he would make his decision relatively soon.
"I believe in nonpartisanship," he said. "Lots of times it's hard to advance the best interest of Alaskans when partisanship gets in the way. But in terms of caucusing I'll have to caucus with someone. I'll try to do what's in the best interests of my district."
The Democratic caucus is expected to finalize its committee membership positions in a meeting early Wednesday morning, said Tuck.
The caucus has already named its three members to the Finance Committee -- Les Gara of Anchorage, along with David Guttenberg and Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks -- and its two members to the House Resources Committee -- Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson of Anchorage.