The incoming Republican-led Senate majority announced Friday that Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, is joining the group.
Egan was the first Democrat to declare he will caucus with the majority, after Republicans broke the 10-10 tie between Democrats and Republicans in the Alaska State Legislature’s upper chamber by picking up multiple Democrat-held seats last Tuesday.
“I’m not too enthused about it, but I did (join),” said Egan Friday night. “It was gut-wrenching for me, you know. I’m a Democrat. I’ll always be a Democrat.”
As part of the conditions of joining the new majority, Egan said, he will vote with the Republicans to organize the body, but otherwise, “I can vote as I want to vote.”
Egan added, “And they all understand that, you know, I’m a lifelong Democrat and that I’m trying to look out for the people of Southeast Alaska. I mean, we lost a senator. There are only two of us, and neither of us are in a leadership position.”
Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, lost his reelection bid last week in a incumbent-versus-incumbent matchup created by redistricting. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who has also announced he will caucus with the Republican-led majority, defeated him.
As a member of the new majority, Egan will be chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He is currently chairman of the Labor and Commerce Committee.
“Senator Egan has a very diverse background and a long family legacy that will enhance our ability to represent the interests of all Alaskans,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, in a statement released by the majority. “Senator Egan, as Transportation Chair, will be able to use his expertise to improve transportation in all corners of the state including the Alaska Marine Highway System.”
Egan’s chairmanship of the Transportation Committee means that leadership of both the House and Senate Transportation Committees will remain with Southeast Alaska lawmakers. Kookesh is the outgoing Senate Transportation Committee chairman.
Egan has been a member of the Alaska Senate Bipartisan Working Group, which includes all 10 Democratic senators and six Republican senators. He said he expects to get “a lot of flak” for crossing the aisle to join the new majority, but said he has spoken with community leaders and fellow capital city legislators Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, and Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and they supported his decision.
“I’ve had personal emails saying, ‘Right on,’ but I also have emails saying, ‘What the hell have you done?’ But those emails are coming from Anchorage. But I don’t represent Anchorage. I represent Juneau,” said Egan. “In my own heart, I think it’s best for Juneau. And I know people are going to be upset, but in the long run, hopefully they’ll see, you know, the wisdom of my ways. Maybe they won’t,” he added ruefully.
Muñoz said Friday that she is “very happy” Egan has joined the new majority. Their combined positions should secure Juneau’s position as capital city in the 28th Legislature, she said.
“With Senator Egan in the Senate and my position in the House, I think we’re fine,” said Muñoz.
Muñoz is part of the newly organized House majority, which has wasted no time in organizing, with Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, still holding the speaker’s gavel.
But two Southeast Alaska legislators will not be returning to their committee chairmanships, with the chair of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee passing from Muñoz to a bipartisan duo of representatives, and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, being replaced as co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Muñoz will be a member of the powerful Finance Committee, though, which she said precludes her from the chairwomanship of Community and Regional Affairs.
“If you serve on the Finance Committee, you can’t serve on any of the other committees because the Finance Committee is by far the busiest committee,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz sought to take a seat on the Finance Committee, she said, because with Thomas’ reelection in doubt — he narrowly trails Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins in a race that will likely be decided by absentee and questioned ballots — and him off the committee, Southeast Alaska merits representation.
“We could not leave Southeast Alaskans out of position on Finance,” said Muñoz, adding, “We try to look for regional balance, and if I had not pursued that position on Finance, we probably would have lost that seat in the long run, and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to put us in that position.”
Egan noted with displeasure that no member of the incoming Senate majority from Southeast Alaska will have a seat on the Senate Finance Committee.
“That’s my main issue, you know, is funding for Juneau and the region,” Egan added. “Not only just Juneau, but all of Southeast.”
Only one House committee, the Transportation Committee, will be chaired by a Southeast Alaska representative in the 28th Legislature. Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, will remain as committee chairwoman.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.