Lawmakers gather to pick party leaders

House Dems re-elect Berkowitz as minority leader; GOP debates next Senate president

Posted: Friday, November 05, 2004

ANCHORAGE - State legislators wasted no time after Tuesday's election getting together to choose their leaders for the upcoming session.

House Democrats met Wednesday and re-elected Rep. Ethan Berkowitz as minority leader.

Senate Republicans also met Wednesday, while their counterparts in the House were to meet Thursday or today.

Republican senators discussed whether to keep North Pole Sen. Gene Therriault as president of the Senate or replace him with Anchorage Sen. Ben Stevens, the Senate majority leader and son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

No decision was announced Wednesday night.

"My overall sense is that it may be about 50-50 as far as the support," Therriault said.

Therriault has been the president since the 2002 election.

Stevens, when asked about his challenge to Therriault, would say only that the presidency "traditionally rotates" and it appears that will happen again this time.

Therriault said some of his fellow Republican senators asked him to keep the job.

"A number of people approached me that like my management style, a combination of both presentation to the public and the operation of the caucus itself," Therriault said. "I don't know if Ben's chosen that it would be drastically different, though."

Anticipating there could be some final changes made after all the results from Tuesday's elections are tallied, House Republicans said they would vote on leadership positions in the caucus for the next two years.

"I think we'll probably go through the whole slate of committee chairs and fill out the committees," said House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. "I would push for that, so people can start doing the preliminary work that needs to be done before we start the Legislature."

The current House speaker, Eagle River Rep. Pete Kott, is being challenged by Valdez Rep. John Harris. Like the battle for Senate president, that contest appears close.

Harris said he began talking to other legislators about becoming speaker two years ago, after Kott said he didn't plan to run for re-election. But Kott did run, and wants another term as speaker.

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