Bipartisan coalition to again control Senate, keeps Stevens in charge

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Alaska Senate has organized a coalition with the same top leader, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, as last session, but with Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, in a larger role.

Along with Stevens as Senate President, also remaining the same will be the two finance co-chairs, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. The Senate's majority leader will be Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Rules Committee chair will be Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.

Stevens called it a strong coalition, and noted that it had no choice but to be bipartisan.

"The public, in its wisdom, has elected a Senate that has 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans," he said at an announcement in Anchorage of the new organization. While the announcement was billed as a "press conference," no questions from the press were taken.

For the last two legislative sessions, the body has been controlled by the Bipartisan Working Group, a coalition of all of the Senate's Democrats and several of its Republicans.

Egan will retain his seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee in the new organization, but will also chair the Labor and Commerce Committee, said Jesse Kiehl, an aide to Egan. Egan will also have a seat on the Judiciary Committee.

The Legislature's finance committees work similar to an executive committee for each body, with all key legislation passing through them and committee seats highly prized.

The four-member Senate Minority includes some formerly powerful legislators, along with the body's newest member. Current Minority Leader Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, did not run for re-election, and his seat was won by Sen.-elect Cathy Giessel.

Also in the minority are Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, notable for assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its investigation of corruption in the Alaska Legislature in 2006.

Those two will be joined by Sens. John Coghill, R-North Pole, a former House majority leader and Rules Committee chair, and Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, who last session was the Senate's Rules Committee Chair and then Majority leader.

The minority includes staunch abortion opponents, while the coalitions typically agree to not pursue some of the most divisive issues as a condition of membership.

Other committee chairs in the working group are Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, Health and Social Services, Sen. Hollis French, Judiciary, Resources, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, State Affairs, Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, Transportation, Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, Community and Regional Affairs, and Stevens, World Trade.

Sens. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Joe Paskvan D-Fairbanks, will be co-chairs of Resources, while Meyer and Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, will co-chair Education.

Other members of the Finance Committee will be Olson, Thomas and Sens. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage and Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.

Egan is currently recuperating in Seattle following heart surgery last week. The Legislature convenes in Juneau on Jan. 18.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@

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