ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET
Yet again, a Republican state lawmaker has jumped ship and joined a Democratic coalition in the House – and, yet again, is being rewarded handsomely for the switch.
This time it is Eagle River’s Kelly Merrick, who joined the mostly Democrat coalition led by Rep. Louise Stutes, of Kodiak. The House now is divided, with 19 Republicans on one side of the aisle and 15 Democrats, four undeclared Democrats, and Republicans Merrick and Stutes on the other.
For her swapping sides, Merrick was named co-chair of the House Finance Committee. The position is one of the Legislature’s most powerful and coveted.
After a three-week standoff for leadership of the House, Merrick, who first said she was not joining the mostly Democrat coalition, did just that. Of course, she says she had good reason. It is the best for everybody, she says. It is time to get to work, she says. Besides, she says, she was frustrated by the leadership impasse.
It certainly is not the first time a Republican has bolted from his or her party to join with Democrats in return for powerful legislative positions. In recent memory, Stutes and former Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux immediately come to mind. Sadly, Merrick may not be the last. The need for power, after all, does strange things to legislators.
There may be a price. Merrick represents a bright red district in bright red Eagle River. We are left to wonder what her constituents think about her switch. After all, they voted her into office believing she was a conservative Republican who would act as a Republican and help establish a Republican-led House that would adhere to Republican principals. They now get none of that.
What they get instead is a Democrat coalition running the show. Alaska is a mostly conservative state, but the will of the voters is ignored all too often by political jockeying and coalition politics. With help from a few turncoat Republicans, the minority too often ends up in charge, denying the political will of the majority of Alaskans.
That could be crucial now with the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend looming, along with the prospect of new taxes and other revenue-enhancing options on the horizon.
We suspect Merrick rightfully and eventually will pay a political price for her abandonment.
It cannot be too soon.
Read much more at the Anchorage Daily Planet.