Updated, 4:45 p.m.
By BECKY BOHRER
Republicans on Wednesday wasted no time in claiming control of the Alaska Senate, one day after winning a majority of seats in the chamber.
Coming into Tuesday's elections, the Senate was composed of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, with six Republicans joining Democrats to form a bipartisan majority. The GOP won at least 12 seats Tuesday, in a political landscape reconfigured by redistricting.
Republicans held organizational talks Wednesday and unveiled an 11-member GOP majority at a late-afternoon news conference. So far, Sens. Kevin Meyer and Lesil McGuire of Anchorage are the only members of the bipartisan coalition to join.
Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla will be Senate president, while Sen. John Coghill of North Pole will be majority leader. McGuire will be rules chair, and Meyer will serve as co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, alongside Pete Kelly of Fairbanks. Elections results showed Kelly defeating Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks.
Huggins called the group a work in progress and said there would be no requirements, or litmus test, for others to join. In addition to Kelly, the group includes four Senate newcomers: Click Bishop of Fairbanks, Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, Peter Micciche of Soldotna and Rep. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River. Fairclough defeated Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, on Tuesday.
Conspicuously absent were the remaining Senate Republicans, Bert Stedman of Sitka and outgoing Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak, who have been more moderate voices and critical of Gov. Sean Parnell's plan to cut oil taxes.
Update, 4:45 p.m.:
A new 11-member Republican-led Senate organization was just announced:
- Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla as president
- Sen. John Coghill of North Pole as majority leader.
- Sens. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks and Kevin Meyer of Anchorage as co-chairs of the Finance Committee.
- Sen. Lesil McGuire of Anchorage of Anchorage as chair of the Rules Committee.
The new organization doesn't include two Republicans - the current Senate President, Gary Stevens of Kodiak, and Finance Committee Co-chairman Bert Stedman of Sitka. They've been invited, Huggins said.
The current Senate is split with 10 members of each party and has been governed by a coalition of 10 Democrats and six Republicans. The new split is 13 Republicans and seven Democrats.
Huggins and Coghill have been members of the four-member conservative minority.
Speaking to reporters at a hastily called news conference inside the Associated General Contractors offices in South Anchorage, McGuire said it's possible to run a majority organization with 11 members but it's easier with more. She said she hoped Democrats would join, including those from rural Alaska.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Update, 4 p.m.:
This announcement was sent to news media at 3:47 p.m. Wednesday:
An announcement about the new Senate organization will take place in 4:15pm in the parking lot of the Alaska General Contractors located at 8005 Schoon Street. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Check back for updates.
From Richard Mauer in Anchorage --
Downtown Anchorage, at least the block between the 4th Avenue legislative office and the Hotel Captain Cook, seemed to be crawling with state senators Wednesday as the first post-election round of organizing got underway.
Republicans were meeting in small groups in suites around the hotel as they tried to calculate how to divide the spoils of their victory.
Democrats were also hanging around. Sen. Dennis Egan arrived on a morning flight from Juneau and was trying to get his parking permit in order before he could worry about out where the meetings were.
On the 12th floor of the hotel, Sen. Lyman Hoffman met up with Sen. Bert Stedman around 10 a.m. and both rode the elevator back down to the fifth. Stedman is the Republican from Sitka, Hoffman the Democrat from Bethel.
In the previous senate, split 10-10 between Democrats and Republicans, both were co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and got along well. Stedman had a lot of nice things to say about Hoffman on the elevator ride, and made an additional point of how his Southeast district looked a lot like Hoffman’s Southwest one, and that rural legislators were feeling under the gun from the more powerful Railbelt and needed to stick together.
After Tuesday's election, the senate is now 13-7, Republican to Democrat, with one race still in the balance. (Democrat Hollis French is leading Republican challenger Bob Bell, but his 249-vote margin isn’t big enough to guarantee he will survive the final count of absentee and questioned ballots.) At 13-7, there would probably be room for a few Democrats in a coalition. That becomes less likely if it’s 14-6.
The buzz for the last few weeks is that Sen. Charlie Huggins, the Republican from Wasilla who served in the minority the last few years, is now the leading candidate for Senate president. Huggins often spoke on the Senate floor as a member of the minority, frequently invoking analogies of combat or football.
It’s likely that before the end of the day, some structure will emerge.