Senate Leadership Changes Put Southwest Alaska In Weaker Spot

The bipartisan coalition as it’s currently known is done, and as a result Unalaska may lose some pull when it comes to getting projects funded.

Ten Republicans gathered at an Anchorage office building on Wednesday to announce that the bulk of the party had organized a majority. They also announced leadership roles. Charlie Huggins, of Wasilla, is the new Senate president, and John Coghill, of North Pole, is the majority leader. Both had been a part of the Senate’s tiny 4-person minority until this point.

Notably absent at the meeting were moderate Republicans Gary Stevens and Bert Stedman. Both had held high positions in the bipartisan coalition that controlled the Senate in recent years.

At the press conference, Senate President Charlie Huggins said they would be welcome to join the majority if they wanted to.

“This is the base group,” said Huggins. “And our objective is to expand this group so that we have as great a cross section to represent Alaskans as possible that have similar values.”

Also absent were rural legislators Lyman Hoffman and Donny Olson. The two Democrats have put party aside in the past to get on committees that would benefit their districts. Huggins said that they also would be able to join the majority if they wanted.

Hoffman represents Unalaska, and has long been a major player on the powerful Senate finance committee. While Hoffman may still be able to join the new majority group, he won’t be able to get back his job as finance co-chair. Those positions went to Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, and Pete Kelly, of Fairbanks. That change in leadership could make it more difficult for Unalaska to get infrastructure projects shepherded through the budget process. The community was already set to be in a weaker position because it lost House finance committee member Bryce Edgmon to redistricting. Rep. Bob Herron, who now represents the Aleutians, is not currently on the finance committee.

The reconfiguration of the Senate has a number of policy implications going into January’s legislative session. The bipartisan working group had blocked Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed tax cuts for oil companies this spring, but the new Republican majority listed oil tax reform as one of their top priorities at yesterday’s meeting. In addition to creating a more favorable climate for oil tax cuts, a Republican-led Senate may also be more receptive to taking up social issues like abortion policy. The bipartisan coalition had avoided advancing issues it considered to be divisive.