Senators form bipartisan alliance

Juneau's Kim Elton will join majority

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2006

State Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, has formed a coalition with eight Senate Democrats to become Senate president in the next Legislature. The coalition includes current Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens of Kodiak and Minority Leader Johnny Ellis of Anchorage.

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Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, one of the Democrats, and said the move would be good for what had been a bitterly divided Senate.

"A bipartisan approach is absolutely what the state needs," he said.

Green's new majority included five Republicans along with the eight Democrats.

"I'm excited about working together for something rather than working for party labels," he said.

Other Republicans in the coalition include Bert Stedman of Sitka and Charlie Huggins of Wasilla as co-chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and John Cowdery as Rules Committee chair.

Other Democrats include Albert Kookesh of Angoon, Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, Donny Olson of Nome and Bill Wielechowksi, Johnny Ellis and Hollis French.

Additional committee assignments have not been announced, but most have been tentatively agreed to, Elton said.

"There is some maneuvering room left," he said.

"We have agreed for roles for all the Democrats." Elton said. "I am very, very, very comfortable with the role we have agreed on for me," he said, even though the role was undisclosed for now.

The last time a bi-partisan coalition led the Senate, the presidency wound up going to Sitkan Dick Eliason, a long-time Southeast legislator who has since retired. Friday, Eliason welcomed the coalition as a way to solve the legislative gridlock of recent years.

"There's just a stalemate (in the Legislature)," he said. "A coalition gets people working with you.

"We'll have a stronger voice over there in some of the situations we're in," he said.

When Eliason was Senate President his coalition was mostly Republicans with a handful of Democrats.

More recently a coalition majority was attempted in the House of Representatives, but fell apart within a day.

Elton said the strong election showing by Democrats Nov. 7, in which they closed the Republican margin to 11-9, led to the coalition. The Green coalition will have 13 members.

"It was made possible by the gains in the last election," Elton said.

"It's much more difficult to have a majority when you can't lose a single vote out of the majority."

The only Democrat not joining the coalition is Joe Thomas of Fairbanks. According to the Associated Press, Thomas was not comfortable with the makeup of the group and did not believe it was in the best interests of the state. He declined further comment.

Elton acknowledged a "wide range of opinions" among members of the coalition.

"Everybody understood that being a member of the majority doesn't mean you give up your value system," he said.

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