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New lawmaker boosts Democratic caucus

Nome's Neal Foster wins seat on powerful finance committee

Posted: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In contrast to his father, Alaska's newest state legislator will caucus with the minority Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, was sworn in by Gov. Sean Parnell Monday to replace long-time Rep. Richard Foster of Nome, who died recently. The elder Foster was also a registered Democrat, but caucused with the Republicans for most of his 21 years in the Legislature.

Parnell had appointed Neal Foster, a 37-year-old Nome City Council member, last week to fill the seat. Under state law, Parnell was only allowed to name a Democrat to the seat, and his appointment had to be approved by House Democrats, led by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula.

The Democrats confirmed Foster, who said he'd join Kerttula's Democratic minority.

"I've always been a Democrat, I think I've got a lot of the same values as the Democrats," Foster said. "Certainly my dad, he sided with the Republicans."

"I would ask him about politics, he always tried to keep the family and politics separate," Foster said.

Foster's decision to join Kerttula brings the size of the Democratic minority to 15. Under legislative rules, his father's Republican seat on the powerful House Finance Committee goes to the Democrats. Kerttula said Democrats decided by consensus Monday to name Foster to that finance seat.

"It actually is a testament to who he is and what he believes," she said.

Foster's inclusion in the Democratic Caucus will give the minority a fourth seat on the 11-person committee. The finance committee is considered the most powerful committee in the body as all money issues and other key issues go through that committee.

Some other Democrats, including Rep. Reggie Joule of Kotzebue also caucus with Republicans.

Foster and Kerttula were previously acquainted.

"I've known Beth for quite some time, and I think there are a lot of opportunities there to represent my district," Foster said.

Kerttula was a friend of the late Richard Foster, and said she's known Neal Foster since he was a child. Both are Stanford graduates.

Foster said he expects to be dealing with the subsistence issue, one of his rural district's top priorities. Foster's district, House District 39, includes the Wade Hampton area, among the poorest in the state and regularly the highest unemployment area.

"My issues will be responsible resource development and fishing, and making sure we do all we can to get jobs in the entire district," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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