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11/8/2018
GOP claims House: Caucus meetings ongoing

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

Newly re-elected Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, was in Anchorage on Wednesday to meet with fellow representatives and discuss caucusing.

Republicans said they have regained control of the Alaska House. But the House speaker, Democrat Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, said not so fast.

The GOP majority announced Wednesday stood at the minimum of 21 members. Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, said he was chosen to be the next speaker. He said the caucus was working out details, such as guiding principles.

The group also announced its choice of Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, for House majority leader; Reps. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, for House Finance Committee co-chairs; and Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, to chair the House Rules Committee.

But Edgmon, in a statement, said ballot counting continues and that there remains one tight House race in which the outcome could split the 40-member House in half.

House District 1 has Republican candidate Bart LeBon leading Democratic candidate Kathryn Dodge by 79 votes, with a number of absentee and question ballots still being counted.

“It’s premature to focus on caucus organization before the election has been decided with a narrow 21-19 majority in place,” Edgmon wrote in statement released Wednesday. “With one House race hanging in the balance, the outcome could easily be a 20-20 split.

“In the meantime, as we await the counting of hundreds of outstanding ballots, the Alaska House Majority Coalition is focusing on assembling priorities and concerns for the upcoming legislative session,” Edgmon added.

In a call to the Daily News on Wednesday, Ortiz — who was the only independent elected Tuesday — also emphasized that everything is still up in the air regarding solidified caucuses in the House.

Ortiz is part of the current House majority coalition that consists of Democrats, independents and some Republicans.

“Things are really fluid,” Ortiz said Wednesday afternoon. “... I am certainly involved in conversations and there is certainly — there’s an overriding desire to do what’s in the best interest for District 36.”

“There’s a number of different scenarios and I don’t really know how it’s going to go,” he added.

Ortiz pointed out that nobody from the House Majority Coalition caucus was at Wednesday’s Republican caucus announcement.

As part of the majority, Ortiz serves on the finance committee and is chair of two finance subcommittees — Education and Fish and Game.

If Republicans do take hold of the House, it would be significant. Republican Mike Dunleavy was elected governor, and Republicans are expected to hold the Senate.

Most of the current Republican House members have spent the past two years in the House minority.

Ortiz said that in the coming days he would continue to work with representatives in order to do what’s best for the district.

“My overriding interest is to do what’s in the best interest of District 36 and so that’s what’s driving me,” Ortiz said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story