Republicans name their House leaders but struggle with other issues

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The new Republican majority in the Alaska House of Representatives displayed itself and its leaders in Anchorage Wednesday, but the incoming speaker said the caucus was still “under construction” and unsettled.

David Talerico, a Republican from Healy, announced himself as the new speaker at a news conference at the Associated General Contractors office in Anchorage, a place with a big conference room that has traditionally hosted Republican Senate and House majorities.

While Talerico said that all 21 members of the caucus were present at AGC, including himself, the number arrayed behind him was short a lawmaker — Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, an economic libertarian who has opposed his own party as well as Democrats. A member of the caucus said Eastman was on the phone in another room, but his absence was notable. As a leading opponent of binding caucuses, was Eastman making a point? One reporter was ushered from the room with Eastman and couldn’t ask.

Talerico said it wasn’t clear yet whether caucus rules would require members would be bound to vote for the state’s budget — the usual price of entry for a caucus and a way for leaders to keep recalcitrant members in line.

“You know, we’re actually in the discussions on that,” Talerico said. “We’re working on that as we’re going along. What we are right now — we’re a caucus in construction.”

The House actually has 23 elected Republicans, but two others were missing — Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage and Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who both joined a caucus under Democrats in the previous Legislature. Talerico said no one asked LeDoux to join — she’s been a pariah in her own party, which helped a Republican write-in campaign — but Stutes is another matter.

Sounding hesitant, Talerico said an invitation to participate in the caucus formation was extended to Stutes like to other Republicans, but she never responded.

“Rep. Stutes is actually in Kodiak — I do believe I was told that she is in Kodiak and uh, um, we had extended an invitation to her as well,” Talerico said.

The House majority, if it holds, gives Republicans in Alaska a “trifecta” — control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, which was won Tuesday by Mike Dunleavy.

Alaska is bucking a trend. According to the national nonprofit Ballotpedia, Republican trifectas are in decline around the country while Democratic ones are on the rise. Ballotpedia says Republicans had a net loss of four trifectas in Tuesday’s U.S. elections while Democrats gained six.

Besides Talerico, the other members of the House Republican leadership announced Wednesday are Chuck Kopp of Anchorage as House Majority leader; Lance Pruitt of Anchorage and Tammie Wilson of North Pole as co-chairs of the House Finance Committee; and Cathy Tilton of Wasilla as chair of the House Rules Committee.

Senate Republicans are due to meet Wednesday even though one big race in Fairbanks, between Republican Pete Kelly and Democrat Scott Kawasaki, was undecided. Kelly, the Senate president, leads that race by 11 votes.

Republicans currently rule the Senate and the Kelly-Kawasaki race would leave the body with a 14-6 or 13-7 split, depending on who wins. Even though its Republican numbers look strong, the Senate has a similar problem as the House, with two Republicans from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes, unwilling — at least last session — to be bound on the budget.

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