The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.
The new organization is otherwise much like the old. Sen. John Coghill of North Pole remains the majority leader, and a number of committees are keeping the same chairs with a few notable exceptions. Sen. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River was promoted a co-chair position on the Senate finance committee, while Sen. Mike Dunleavy of the Mat-Su was made chair of the education committee. Dunleavy was a member of the education committee last legislature, and sponsored a constitutional amendment that would have allowed public funds to be used at private schools.
Republicans picked up one Senate seat on Tuesday, with Mia Costello taking over the seat vacated by Democrat Hollis French, giving them 14 out of 20 seats in the state senate. The caucus currently includes all 14 Republican members, 13 of which were present for a press conference held at the offices of a construction industry trade association. Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire, who previously held the influential position of rules chair, was absent from the media availability.
The last Senate majority included two Democrats whose districts covered areas off the road system. Dennis Egan of Juneau and Donny Olson of Golovin were not invited to Wednesday’s organization meeting.
“We are having discussions the minority, but whether or not they want to join us or we want them to join us has not been resolved yet,” says Meyer.
With the election just a day behind them, Meyer says the caucus is still working out its legislative priorities. But the state’s gloomy revenue outlook is an issue the organization plans to address.
“We all know what oil prices are doing and we know that what we budgeted for and we know we’re going to have a deficit,” says Meyer. “And so we’re focused on budget sustainability and how we can make gradual reductions in our budget while at the same time keep the economy strong and keep jobs and keep people employed.”
Legislators may also have to deal with the question of marijuana legalization — whether they want to or not — thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2. Rules Chair Charlie Huggins says he was perplexed that the initiative passed and that Alaska could see some legislative “speed bumps” but would not elaborate further.
The Senate Republicans also demurred on the question of Medicaid expansion. While the governor’s race is too close to call, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker holds a narrow lead, and he has said that his first act as governor would be to accept the federal expansion for 40,000 Alaskans.
Senate President Kevin Meyer says it’s too early to say what the Legislature’s role will be with Medicaid. He says the caucus is generally willing to work with Walker if he wins election.
“You know, it doesn’t matter to us who the governor is,” says Meyer. “We’re going to work together with the executive branch, and we’re going to do what’s best for the state of Alaska.”
The Republican House Majority plans to hold its organization meeting on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leadership Positions
President: Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage)
Majority Leader: Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole)
Rules Chair: Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla)
Finance Co-Chair- Sen. Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks)
Finance Co-Chair – Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River/East Anchorage)
Resources Chair – Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage)
Community and Regional Affairs Chair – Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
Education Chair – Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
Judiciary Chair – Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage)
Health and Social Services Chair – Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka)
State Affairs Chair – Sen. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak)
Transportation Chair – Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
Labor and Commerce Chair – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
Legislative Council Chair – Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)