ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Forget for a minute the hot governor’s race and the election contest for the U.S. House. The Alaska Legislature is also in play this year — but how likely is control to shift in either the Democratic-controlled House or the Republican-controlled Senate?
All 40 House seats and half the 20-member Senate are up for election this year. Theoretically, that could change the House, where Democrats have a thin margin, or the Senate, where Republicans hold a more commanding lead.
But this is Alaska, where the state constitution, statutes and legislative rules say that political parties are not necessarily the key to organizing those chambers.
Republicans started 2017 — the beginning of the two-year, 30th Legislature — with a majority in the House. They still have it. But their 21-17 lead didn’t add up. Two independents, Jason Grenn from Anchorage and Dan Ortiz from Ketchikan, and three Republicans, Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, Paul Seaton of Homer and Louise Stutes of Kodiak, joined with Democrats for a 22-18 majority coalition caucus.
The Senate is 14-6 Republican. But one of the Democrats, Lyman Hoffman, joined the Republican leadership. Two conservative Republican senators — Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes — were not part of the Republican coalition.
Control of a chamber matters to legislators who hope their bills will be heard — far less likely if they’re in the minority — and to a governor with a legislative agenda. But even when Alaska previously was under single-party rule — Sean Parnell was the Republican governor and the House and Senate were all Republican-led — Parnell couldn’t get some of his key legislation passed.
The election on Tuesday may resolve some issues. It’s possible that House Democrats will solidify their lead, with strong candidates running in at least two districts. But it’s also possible that Democrats will falter. The Republican GOPAC says the House could change hands with three Republican victories.
And the Senate?
Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki is challenging the Senate president, Pete Kelly, in Fairbanks, and the race is tight — either candidate could win. But a Kawasaki victory wouldn’t change the Senate majority itself — Hoffman could come back to the Democrats, and three moderate Republicans could join Democrats in a bipartisan coalition, but that still leaves the Senate tied, 10-10. Without another Democratic victory, it seems, Democrats will remain the minority in the Senate.