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Democrats defect to Republican majority

Move may end effort by Kerttula to win control of the House

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Three Democrats from rural Western Alaska districts have left the House's Democratic Caucus to join Nikiski Republican Rep. Mike Chenault's Majority Caucus, Chenault announced Monday.

Longtime Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, and second-term Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, will be joined by newly elected Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, in becoming members of the Republican-led Majority Caucus. All will get minor leadership positions.

That move likely ends the hopes of Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, to use the growing numbers of Democrats elected to the House to win control of the body.

The three Democrats who changed their alliances join Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome, who has long caucused with the Republicans.

"It's an opportunity for us to highlight issues effecting rural Alaska," said Joule, in a press release announcing the change.

Kerttula, currently House minority leader, said she was disappointed by the defections.

She's spent years working with Joule in the Democratic caucus.

"I think after a decade in the minority he wanted to be in the majority," she said.

Chenault said Joule will be a member of the House Finance Committee, while Edgmon will be co-chairman of the House Special Committee on Energy, and Herron will be co-chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee.

Edgmon said the new membership in the Majority Caucus would give rural Alaska a stronger voice in raising issues such as energy.

The Republican-led Majority Caucus membership is now at 26, while the Democratic Minority is at 14. By party registration, Republicans have a 22-18 majority.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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