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After every state general election comes the rush to organize the state House and Senate into majority and minority caucuses.
More often than not, the party that controls the most seats organizes the majority caucus, filling the powerful leadership and committee chair positions and proceeding to control the legislative agenda and flow of individual bills in the respective House or Senate for the next two years.
Occasionally — especially when a given party doesn’t have a large majority — there can be a significant amount of political horsetrading involved in cobbling together a majority coalition caucus. That process resulted in the current House majority coalition of 17 Democrats, three Republicans, and two independents. One of those independents is Rep. Dan Ortiz, R-Ketchikan.
On Nov. 6, Ortiz was re-elected to a third term representing House District 36, besting Republican challenger Trevor Shaw.
The day after the election, 20 Republicans held a press conference to announce what they describes as the new House majority caucus, with Rep. David Talerico as House speaker.
Absent from the press conference was Republican Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, who later told KTOO that he “wasn’t ready to sign on the dotted line” to vote for Talerico as House speaker. Also absent were Republican Reps. Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, neither of whom were involved with the newly formed group as of this past week
That left the GOP caucus at 20 solid members coming into this week, with one race — that between Republican Bart LeBon of Fairbanks and Democrat Kathryn Dodge in Fairbanks — still undecided. So, as far as was apparent as of Monday afternoon, no actual House majority has formed.
It’s clear that the Republicans would prefer a GOP-only caucus, and a doctrinaire one at that. Talerico said Wednesday that LeDoux — a Republican who had joined the current coalition caucus — was not invited to join the GOP caucus. Talerico said that Stutes, who also had joined the current coalition, was invited, but hadn’t responded to the invitation as of Wednesday.
What’s unclear is where this leaves the would-be majority caucus — and Ortiz.
If the Fairbanks race goes to the Republican LeBon, and Eastman does sign on, the GOP will have a 22-18 majority and no interest in bringing anyone else aboard to solidify a majority.
Other scenarios would open the door for a bit, or a lot, of horsetrading to create another House coalition majority.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.