Alaska House tied in knots on session’s first day

Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer watches members of the Alaska House try to maneuver into a majority on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska. Meyer was blocked from starting the process of swearing in a new Republican member. The House needs 21 members to form a majority, without one it cannot form committees or introduce bills. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The uncertainty over control of the Alaska House continued Tuesday, the first day of the legislative session.

That became clear when Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer tried to start the process for swearing in Sharon Jackson, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s nominee to fill a vacant House seat in Eagle River.

Meyer tried to recognize the Republicans’ pick to lead the House, Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy. But Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck objected.

Meyer asked: “Have the House Republicans received a nomination from the governor? Rep. Talerico?”

Talerico thanked Meyer and started to answer: “The House Republicans did — ”

Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck watches Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer on Tuesday in Juneau. Tuck blocked Meyer from starting the process to swear in Eagle River Republican Sharon Jackson during the first House floor session. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

But Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck raised a point of order, adding, “We cannot receive messages from the governor until we have our house in order.”

The path for getting the House in order isn’t clear. The House needs 21 members to form a majority. Without a majority, the House can’t form committees or introduce bills. Without Jackson, there are 19 members who want a Republican-led majority. And there are 19 members who support the former, mostly Democratic coalition. Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp wants a majority with a balance between members of both parties.

Without an agreement on what to do, the House recessed until 5 p.m. After briefly convening, the House adjourned until 1 p.m. Wednesday.

By comparison, the Senate’s first day went smoothly.

Sen. Mia Costello put forward the name of fellow Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel to lead the chamber.

“I move and ask unanimous consent that Sen. Giessel be nominated as president of the Senate for the 31st Legislature,” Costello said, and no one objected.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel will serve as president of the Alaska Senate. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Shortly after the Senate session, Giessel talked about the complexity of addressing issues like crime.

“We also recognize that crime is affected by issues in health as well – the opioid crisis, frankly, to cut to the chase,” Giessel said. “And so I’ve asked my committees not to operate in silos, but actually to collaborate.”

Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said Dunleavy’s amended budget will be ready the second week of February.

“We believe there’s going to be a reduction in administrative costs, merging some agencies and functions, diverting government services to the private sector and potentially scaling back social services,” von Imhof said.

The Senate Finance Committee will meet Wednesday. But Giessel said the Senate will be constrained on the actions it can take until the House agrees on a speaker.