The Eagle River town hall meeting with legislators was a technical challenge on Saturday for those tuning in, but the crowd that was present at the Lion’s Club had plenty to say to Rep. Kelly Merrick.
They pilloried Merrick for abandoning the Republican caucus to get the powerful seat co-chairing House Finance Committee, and membership in the Democrats’ binding caucus. They told her to resign.
Although Merrick appeared on a screen for the town hall, she said she could not hear the people in the room. It’s unclear if that was the case, because at one point, people in the room said they could not hear her, and she responded, “I’m sorry?” and “OK.” And she also paused reading her script while people booed her.
Merrick, in her statement to her constituents, said she joined the Democrat caucus because she felt it would best represent Eagle River, and not because she wanted a bigger office or more staff. She said she was representing Eagle River values, but that she was not sent to Juneau to just represent Republicans. She also said she hoped other conservatives would come over to join her, but unfortunately they did not. She said that Speaker Louise Stutes had offered the chairmanship of Rules Committee to four of the most conservative members of the House. They refused, and Dillingham’s Bryce Edgmon is now chair of Rules.
It was the first time Merrick has made public statement about her controversial move to join the Democrat-led caucus. She has kept radio silence and has not returned calls from constituents in her district or District 14 Republican Party officers.
“Thank you to the overwhelming number of people who supported my decision,” she said. She laughed off those who have been “concocting these conspiracy theories” as to why she jumped to the majority — that she plans to run for Congress or governor.
“I can assure you it’s not that glamorous,” Merrick said.
Joelle Hall, the new head of AFL-CIO in Alaska, chimed in on Facebook, “We support you, Kelly!”
Others were not so kind, and she took no questions during the town hall.
Although since 2016, Republicans have held the majority of House seats, the House remains governed by a non-majority of Democrats. This session, it’s a governing body of 20 that includes two Republicans: Speaker Louise Stutes and Finance Co-Chair Merrick. Stutes has caucused with Democrats since 2016, but this is the first year that Merrick has jumped over.
Sen. Lora Reinbold spoke to the attendees about her dispute with the governor over emergency orders during the past year, and said he had overstepped his authority in writing a letter to her refusing to cooperate with her Judiciary Committee. She said she will be writing a letter back to him soon, and will be producing another video response.
Reinbold and Rep. Ken McCarty were present in the room, while Merrick toughed it out on screen, to the frustration of those attending. about 75 people showed up for the meeting.
The public had much on their minds — Permanent Fund dividends, school closures, critical race theory being taught in schools, election security, and the perceived treachery of Rep. Merrick.
At the end of the meeting, a recall petition application was passed around on a clipboard for those in District 14 to sign, starting the process for recalling Merrick. Over 50 people from the district signed the application for a recall petition.
“They couldn’t sign fast enough,” said one person in the room. “They were grabbing pens, saying where do I sign?”