House, Senate still not organized but talks underway

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With nine days before the Legislature convenes, Rep. Kelly Merrick of Eagle River has organized a Zoom meeting (via computer video) for House representatives from both sides of the aisle for Monday, 1-5 pm. It is designed so those who wish to be Speaker can make their presentations to the group.

The meeting is called “49 First, an honest conversation about the future of Alaska and how the House of Representatives can lead the way.” The rules say those participating must enable their cameras on their computer to be functioning, for security purposes. It’s not open to the public.

Normally, these kinds of organizational meetings are done in person and in secret, but due to COVID-19 and various travel and quarantine logistics, organizing the House and Senate have become even more difficult. Merrick’s approach is an effort to try something different.

Security for in-person organizational meetings is usually tight, but rarely water-tight; this meeting may end up with leaks to the media because of how easy it will be to record the proceedings or allow others to listen in.

Most legislators and their staff are now in Juneau and in their 10-day quarantine period, which means they can’t leave their homes, apartments, or hotel rooms, under the COVID safety rules established by the Legislative Council.

In the House, the Republican-Democrat split is basically 20-20, as Rep. Louise Stutes, a Republican from Kodiak, has decided to remain with the Democrats.

The current House Speaker is Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat who is currently a registered undeclared. Not all Democrats are happy with continuing his leadership, however. Edgmon has been Speaker since 2017.

On the Republican side, many lawmakers and incoming lawmakers do not wish to caucus with Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, which is part of the problem the Republicans face, since without him they are only 19 strong. Eastman is seen as too far right for many of the Republicans in the House. With the current split, some political observers believe a bipartisan caucus will emerge.

The 32nd Alaska Legislature convenes Jan. 19 in Juneau. Regular session ends 90 days later, on April 18.

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