The 1981 Alaska House has parallels to current leadership deadlock

The Alaska House of Representatives has not yet formed a majority. Twenty-one members are needed to elect a permanent House speaker, and only 20 of the chamber’s 23 Republicans are in alliance.
 
The history of the House shows that narrow majorities formed after lengthy bargaining periods have failed before.
 
In 1981, the Alaska House set the state record for the longest period without a majority in place. Democrats won 22 of 40 seats in the 1980 elections, but their members were unable to agree on the leadership of the Finance Committee. Twenty-two days after the session began, Democrats formed their majority and elected Rep. Jim Duncan (D) as speaker.
 
In June 1981, several Democrats unhappy with Duncan, particularly over the length of time he kept them in session, joined with Republicans to depose Duncan. They elected Rep. Joe Hayes (R) as speaker in his place. Duncan and his allies attempted to sue the new majority over the incident, but an Alaska superior court dismissed their case.
 
One of the unaligned Republicans today, Rep. Gary Knopp, says he will not join with other Republicans because he believes a 21-member majority would be unstable. In December 2018, he said he believed the majority would unravel in the middle of the legislative session if Rep. David Eastman (R) was among its members. The Alaska Daily News reported that Eastman was the sole “no” vote against legislation 75 times from 2017 to 2018 and that he had more solo “no” votes than all other legislators combined from 2013 to 2016. Because of this, Knopp says he wants to form a bipartisan power-sharing coalition with members from both parties.
 
Eastman responded to Knopp’s plans in a January 28 op-ed. He questioned whether the proposed bipartisan coalition would accurately represent the result that Alaskans voted for in 2018 when Mike Dunleavy (R) was elected governor over Mark Begich (D). Eastman originally did not align with other Republicans behind caucus leader David Talerico, saying he might want a more conservative leader. However, Eastman joined all Republicans except Knopp, Gabrielle LeDoux, and Louise Stutes in voting for Talerico as speaker on January 22. LeDoux and Stutes both caucused with Democrats from 2017 to 2018.



About the author

Rob Oldham

Rob Oldham is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at rob.oldham@ballotpedia.org

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