House reaches new normal: Suspend the rules



As the Alaska House of Representatives moves into its 23rd day of being rudderless, a new sense of normalcy has set in.

Nome Rep. Neal Foster is the Speaker Pro Tem, and Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck occupies the seat for the House Majority Leader, controlling the action on the floor, to a large extent. For those watching at home, Democrats appear fully in control of the floor. Tuck is the first to speak. He’s the one who introduces the maker of the prayer, the leader of the pledge of allegiance. He makes the motions to adjourn.

Republican Chuck Kopp of Anchorage, who sits farther back in the Chamber, has to dash to the front to monitor and manage the affairs of the Republicans, when an “at-ease” request ¬†brings someone’s concerns to the front for private discussion.

Dozens of power combinations have been proposed to create structure in the House, insiders say, but none of them has gotten the support needed by Republicans, who have lost three of their members to the Democrats — Gary Knopp of Kenai, Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, and Louise Stutes of Kodiak.

Democrats also have held firm against giving up the Speaker’s gavel to the party that won more votes: In the General Election, Republican House members took 125,000 votes to Democrats 113,000.

Rep. Knopp is now attending the caucus meetings of the Democrats but also serving as the go-between, and there’s a deal in the works that each side is said to be voting on today.

And then there are the Uniform Rules.

The House suspended Uniform Rules to allow it to meet in joint session with the Senate three separate times next week, to hear speeches from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court Joel Bolger.

Without a power structure to determine order in the House, the suspension of rules may continue and broaden.

The power-sharing agreement that is in play may work by uniting moderates of both parties; there are some Democrats who are arguably more conservative than some of the Republicans.

But it’s almost certain to put the most conservative members in a bind as they decide whether they’ll join a bipartisan caucus and try to work from within, or be relegated to a broom closet.

This is not going to be an easy decision for members like George Rauscher, District 9; Cathy Tilton, District 12,; Sharon Jackson; District 13, or Kelly Merrick, District 14, to name a few from Alaska’s conservative strongholds.

[Uniform Rules currently in effect]