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GOP claims control of Alaska Senate

Posted: November 8, 2012 - 12:10am

ANCHORAGE — Republicans on Wednesday wasted no time in claiming control of the Alaska Senate, one day after winning a majority of seats in the chamber.

Coming into Tuesday’s elections, the Senate was comprised of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, with six Republicans joining Democrats to form a bipartisan majority. The GOP won at least 12 seats Tuesday, in a political landscape reconfigured by redistricting. Two other races were too close to call.

During a hastily called news conference late Wednesday afternoon, after organizational talks earlier in the day, an 11-member Republican majority was unveiled, with Sens. Kevin Meyer and Lesil McGuire of Anchorage the only members of the bipartisan coalition — at least so far — to join.

It was announced that Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla will be Senate president, while Sen. John Coghill of North Pole will be majority leader. Coghill defeated Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, on Tuesday.

McGuire will be rules chair and Meyer will serve as co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, along with Pete Kelly of Fairbanks. Elections results showed Kelly defeating Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks.

Huggins called the group a work in progress and said there would be no requirements or litmus test for others to join. In addition to Kelly, the group includes four Senate newcomers: Click Bishop of Fairbanks, Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, Peter Micciche of Soldotna and Rep. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River. Fairclough defeated Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, on Tuesday.

The other two members of the majority are Cathy Giessel of Anchorage and Fred Dyson of Eagle River.

Conspicuously absent were the remaining Senate Republicans, Bert Stedman of Sitka and outgoing Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak, who have been more moderate voices and critical of Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to cut oil taxes. Stevens did not immediately return a call Wednesday. Two other Republicans who were part of the coalition lost primary races.

The majority’s three areas of concern will be increasing oil production, getting affordable energy to Alaskans and developing sustainable capital and operating budgets for “current and future generations.”

The politician who could benefit most from Tuesday’s Republican gains in the Legislature, Parnell, said Wednesday he was pleased as the GOP had solidified its strength in the House and took control of the Senate.

Democrats feared Republican control of both the House and Senate would mean a rubber-stamping of Parnell’s tax-cut ideas, which they consider dangerous.

Democrats on Tuesday won or held six seats, including that of Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau, the only lawmaker whose seat was not up for grabs in 2012. Two Democrats were in races where absentee votes might factor in: results showed Paskvan was trailing Kelly by 517 votes and Sen. Hollis French of Anchorage leading Republican Bob Bell by 247 votes.

In southeast Alaska, in the other incumbent pairing, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, defeated Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon. Stedman had been a leader in the coalition, and helped guide Senate efforts to change Alaska’s oil tax structure.

On the House side, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, faced a possible upset against political newcomer Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who led by 43 votes with all precincts reporting but where outstanding ballots also were being watched.

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, won a three-way race that included Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan. Johansen, a former House majority leader, ran as an unaffiliated candidate in House District 33, after skipping a crowded GOP primary in August. He finished a distant third, behind Democrat Matt Olsen.

Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt held a 96-vote lead over Democratic Rep. Pete Petersen in District 25 in Anchorage, and was confident the outstanding absentee ballots favored him; Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, led Rep. Bob Miller, D-Fairbanks, by 294 votes in District 2, with all precincts reporting and Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, led Rep. Alan Dick, R-Nenana, by 253 with all precincts reporting in District 38, with non-affiliated candidate Dorothy Shockley in third.

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