House members talk about sharing power as speaker nomination fails

On Feb. 4, 2019, House members from both parties consult with the chief clerk about the body’s rules. Pictured, from left to right, are Reps. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski; Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Dave Talerico, R-Healy; Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham; and Chief Clerk Crys Jones. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Alaska House members failed to agree on a speaker on the 21st day of the session, but lawmakers are talking about a plan to share power.

On Monday, House members split 20-20 for the second time on whether to name Republican Dave Talerico of Healy as the speaker.

Kenai Rep. Gary Knopp was one of three Republicans to vote against Talerico. He said Talerico would make a “perfect” speaker, and that he could vote for him in the future. But Knopp doesn’t want to form an all-Republican majority, because he believes it wouldn’t function.

“We have to organize the House in a manner that has some success potential, and we haven’t done that yet,” Knopp said on the House floor.

Representatives have been talking about different possibilities for sharing power. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck said there could be co-speakers, alternating speakers, or a speaker who must seek approval from both caucuses before taking action. Tuck would like to see at least 30 House members participate in a power-sharing arrangement.

“One of the things we’re agreeing on is making sure that we have a budget that doesn’t destroy the economy,” Tuck said to reporters on Friday about what he’d like to see as a basis for agreement. “And we also agree that there is no way to cut $1.6 billion out of this budget, and we’re anxiously waiting to see what the governor comes up with.”

The House adjourned until Tuesday. It’s still possible that the House won’t agree on a speaker until after Gov. Michael Dunleavy introduces his revised budget on Feb. 13. Without a speaker, the House can’t form committees or consider legislation.

While no action occurred in the House, the Senate Finance subcommittees began meeting in preparation for the budget. Two of the subcommittees will be shared by minority-caucus Democrats, a departure from standard practice.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, the Senate Finance Committee co-chairman, said he’ll allow the Democrats to fully participate in the committee’s work.

“I think we’re going to have a better result by including a broader scope in these tough decisions,” Stedman said. “A lot of these decisions we’re going to make are really nonpartisan issues.”

The subcommittees are discussing the history of the budget, as well as department goals this week.