Alaska Senate leadership up for grabs

Posted: Monday, November 13, 2000

It could take several weeks for the Senate Republican majority to settle differences over who gets key leadership positions next session.

Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican competing for Senate president, said some majority members are on vacation, and "we agreed people shouldn't interrupt their time."

The Senate majority has established a working group to tackle the now-thorny question of who will lead the 14-member group the next two years.

"We have a sub-set of people that are working on resolving things, putting together a real good group of people to lead," Leman said.

Leman said he is part of the working group but declined to name the other members. He is one of three Republicans vying for Senate president Sen. Rick Halford of Chugiak and Sen. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks reportedly also want the chamber's top post. But Leman said the division goes deeper.

"Anytime a Senate president is selected it's a major issue, but there are more issues than that," Leman said. "It has to do with the whole organization of people, where they go in committees, how the workload is distributed."

Meanwhile, Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, said the longer it takes Republicans to organize, the better the chance some in the majority will peel off and form a bipartisan coalition with the six-member minority. The Democrats would need to attract at least five of the 14 Republicans to take control of the Senate.

"The divisions in the majority caucus may go deeper than those things that divide some people in the majority caucus from the Democrats. We're in a wait-and-see mode to see what does happen," Elton said.

Elton said the minority this year has two things working in its favor: the addition of another Democrat to its caucus and the election of another "very conservative" member to the majority.

Anchorage Rep. John Cowdery last week won the seat formerly held by Sen. Sean Parnell, and Elton said that has made the challenge within the Senate majority more difficult.

"It's easy to accommodate deep philosophical differences if you have a majority of 15 and four or five who are philosophically not all that close to the middle. But when you have a group of 14 and you have five or six that are not that (close) to the middle or moderate, it becomes more difficult to run a majority caucus," Elton said.

The House majority chose its leaders in a day.

House Republicans re-elected Rep. Brian Porter of Anchorage as speaker on Thursday. The caucus also elected Rep. Jeannette James of North Pole as House majority leader, Rep. Pete Kott of Eagle River as chairman of the Rules Committee, and Rep. Eldon Mulder of Anchorage and Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman as co-chairmen of the House Finance Committee. Juneau's Rep. Bill Hudson won a seat on that budget-writing panel.

The House minority has not elected its leader or doled out committee assignments. Juneau's Rep. Beth Kerttula said Democrats last year made those decisions two days before the legislative session began.

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