ANCHORAGE - Republicans in the House and Senate announced new leadership positions on Friday, and House leaders promised to conduct the state's business in a new atmosphere of openness.
Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, was selected by the majority to be speaker of the House, replacing Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River. The decision came after a handful of House Republicans campaigned for a procedure more open to the public.
Harris said his style as speaker will differ from Kott's with every caucus being open in the beginning.
"I will actively try to get the minority involved, as well as the Senate," Harris said. "I will try to facilitate a bipartisan solution to our problems."
The majority in the 40-member House consists of 27 votes, with Rep. Richard Foster of Nome, a Democrat, typically voting with the Republicans.
"It has been our feeling all along that open caucuses promote trust in the political process," said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, who was in the audience for the Republicans' news conference in Anchorage. He said the Democrats have been conducting their business in the open for six years.
"It is a good idea ... and I hope they stick to it," he said of his Republican colleagues.
On the Senate side, many key positions were decided. Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, was chosen to be Senate president for the next two years, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, will take over the majority leader position from Stevens.
The Senate also picked its chairmen for numerous committees, including Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, for Health & Human Services; John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, for Rules; Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, for Judiciary; Tom Wagoner, R-Nikiski, for Resources; Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, for State Affairs; Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, for Labor & Commerce; Charlie Huggins, R-Palmer, for Transportation and Gary Stevens for Community and Regional Affairs.
"Over the next two years the Senate will tackle the most important economic development project our state has seen in decades, the proposed North Slope natural gas pipeline," Sen. Ben Stevens said in a statement.
The House GOP's agenda for the next legislative session will focus on a long-term fiscal plan for the state, a natural gas pipeline, education funding and health care.
"The gas line will be right in the middle of everything we do," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who retains his position as majority leader.
Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, kept their positions as chairman of the House Rules Committee and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Kott, who did not attend the news conference, will become the chairman of the Legislative Council, a committee responsible for conducting the business of the Legislature when it is not in session.