Alaska Senate Democrats gathered in Anchorage over the weekend to form their minority caucus and elected Tom Begich as the Senate minority leader.
Begich was elected to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Johnny Ellis and began serving in January, 2017. His colleagues in the minority put him in the leadership position, rather than more senior member, Sen. Bill Wielechowski.
“We congratulate Senator [Cathy] Giessel on putting her organization together, but are disappointed that our request for a Caucus of the Whole was not accepted by the other party,” Begich said of the majority caucus that was announced on Sunday.
Begich said in an email that the minority caucus would focus on crime, education and the Permanent Fund dividend.
“Senate Democrats were hoping all members of the Senate could focus strictly on those issues we all can agree would move Alaska forward,” Begich wrote. “Senate Democrats will focus on addressing crime in Alaska, putting resources in the classroom, and protecting the permanent fund dividend. All Alaskans deserve hope, opportunities to succeed, and safe communities and we will work to make that happen.”
The rest of the six-member caucus is comprised of Sens. Donny Olson of Golovin, Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage, and three newly elected lawmakers: Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks, Elvi Gray-Jackson of Anchorage, and Jesse Kiehl of Juneau.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel was invited to join the Senate Democrat caucus, which is holding off releasing its committee assignments until they see where he settles.
This is a normal process where the rural senators wait to see what kind of openings exist in the majority and minority caucus and choose the caucus to join based on which is more advantageous to their district.
If the 30-year tradition holds, Hoffman could also join the majority Republican caucus.