Author

Rob Oldham

Rob Oldham is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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.


Alaska House members comment on near record-length majority deadlock

The Alaska House of Representatives still does not have a working majority, leaving it unable to elect a permanent speaker, conduct legislative business, or appoint members to standing committees. The House has been deadlocked since the session began on January 15. If it does not establish a majority by February 6, it will pass the current record for length of time without a majority: 22 days, set in 1981.
 
In the most recent attempt to organize a majority on January 22, the House voted down Republican leader David Talerico’s bid for the speakership by a 20-20 margin. The 23 House Republicans split 20-3. Republican Reps. Gary Knopp, Louise Stutes, and Gabrielle LeDoux voted against Talerico alongside the 16 House Democrats and independent Daniel Ortiz.
 
Knopp said he would not support Talerico or Rep. Bryce Edgmon, the Democratic speaker from 2017 to 2018, and is working to form a bipartisan coalition. Stutes and LeDoux caucused with the Edgmon-led coalition after the 2016 elections and have stated that they intend to caucus with a bipartisan majority again.
 
Here are statements from members of the House on why the deadlock has continued. The quotes were first reported by James Brooks of the Anchorage Daily News on January 29.
 
  • Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D): “It’s not issues that are separating us. At this point, I think it’s more party politics.”
  • Rep. David Talerico (R): “I’m assuming that it’ll have to be a mixed group [of Democrats and Republicans] at some point…I’ve been asked a few times which day I think it will be. Well, I wish it was yesterday.”
  • Rep. Andy Josephson (D): “Because Gov. Dunleavy is believed to be a budget hawk, and has opposed new revenue concepts, it’s actually made us more cohesive as a group of 19 because I think there’s a belief there has to be some counterweight vis-a-vis that philosophy.”
  • Rep. Gary Knopp (R) on why Republicans had not joined a coalition: “I think the new candidates, the freshmen, and some of the incumbents are scared of the direction the party’s taken in the last few years.” (Knopp was specifically referring to the Alaska Republican Party running primary challenges against members who defected after the 2016 elections)
  • Rep. Mark Neuman (R): Paraphrased by Brooks, Neuman said a change in the Democratic and Republican leadership could offer a path forward. He also said he was concerned that members were paying too much attention to their constituents on social media when making decisions.


Alaska House splits 20-20 on vote for Republican speaker; majority still uncertain

Republican leader David Talerico’s bid to become Alaska House speaker failed Tuesday in a 20-20 vote. Talerico needed 21 votes to become the House’s permanent presiding officer and organize the House under a Republican majority.
 
Republicans, who won 23 seats in the 2018 elections, split 20-3 on the Talerico vote, with Reps. Gary Knopp, Gabrielle LeDoux, and Louise Stutes voting no. Rep. David Eastman (R), who previously said he might want a more conservative speaker than Talerico, voted yes. All 16 Democrats and independent Daniel Ortiz voted no.
 
The Alaska House has been without a majority since the 2019 legislative session began on January 15. Without a majority in place, legislative business cannot be conducted and standing committees cannot be appointed. Rep. Neal Foster (D) is serving as speaker pro tempore, but his powers are limited to administrative tasks and accepting nominations for the permanent speakership.
 
Knopp first announced he was leaving the Republican caucus on December 8, 2018. He said a narrow Republican-only majority would be unstable and announced his intention to form a bipartisan majority with power sharing between the parties. Before Tuesday’s vote, he said he would not support Talerico or Rep. Bryce Edgmon, the Democratic speaker from 2017 to 2018.
 
LeDoux and Stutes did not caucus with Republicans from 2017 to 2018 and helped swing control of the House to a mostly-Democratic coalition led by Edgmon. Both have expressed interest in joining another bipartisan coalition for the 2019-2020 session.
 
Rep. Chris Tuck (D) nominated Edgmon for speaker as well on Tuesday. However, Tuck withdrew the nomination shortly after Talerico was voted down. He said Edgmon did not have enough votes to advance either.


Virginia legislative races could make state a Democratic trifecta in 2019

The Virginia State Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates are holding elections on November 5, 2019. If Democrats gain two seats in each chamber, Virginia will become a Democratic trifecta. Republicans control the Senate 21-19 and the House 51-48 (one seat previously held by a Democrat is vacant). The term of Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam (D), runs through 2021.
 
The state House last held elections in 2017, while the state Senate was last up in 2015. In the 2017 House races, Democrats picked up 15 seats and cut the Republican majority from 66-34 to 51-49. Fourteen of the Democratic pick-ups came in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016.
 
Four races in Republican-held seats went to recounts. Democrats won one of the recounts and Republicans won three, including in District 94 where Del. David Yancey (R) won a coin toss after the election ended in an exact tie. That outcome gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the state House.
 
In the 2015 state Senate elections, Republicans held their 21-19 chamber majority. In the 2016 presidential election, 23 districts, including four Republican-held seats, voted for Clinton (D). There were no Democratic-held districts that voted for Donald Trump (R). State Sen. Dick Black (R-13), whose district voted for Clinton by 8.2 percentage points, announced he would not seek re-election in January 2019.
 
Three other states are holding gubernatorial elections in 2019: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Louisiana could potentially become a Republican trifecta if the GOP defeats incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards is Louisiana’s only Democratic statewide elected official. Kentucky, a Republican trifecta, could also feature a competitive gubernatorial race. Fifty-one percent of Kentucky voters disapproved of incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R) in a January 2019 Morning Consult poll.


2019 Alaska House session gaveled in without a majority in place

The Alaska House did not have a 21-member majority to organize the chamber when the 2019 legislative session began Tuesday. Republicans won 23 of 40 seats in the 2018 elections, but four members—David Eastman (R), Gary Knopp (R), Gabrielle LeDoux (R), and Louise Stutes (R)—did not agree to caucus with the GOP, leaving the chamber without official leadership or the ability to conduct legislative business.
 
Eastman said he would likely join Republicans but may want a more conservative leader than current caucus leader David Talerico (R). Knopp left the Republican caucus in mid-December, saying that a 21-member House majority would be unstable and that he wanted to form a larger bipartisan group to run the House. LeDoux and Stutes caucused with a Democratic-led majority coalition from 2017 to 2018 and have expressed their desire to join another bipartisan coalition in 2019.
 
Without a majority in the chamber, Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) presided over the chamber and swore-in legislators (one of his few formal powers as a member of the executive branch). He was only able to swear-in 39 of the 40 legislators because Democrat Chris Tuck raised a point of order over Sharon Jackson (R) joining the House. Jackson was appointed to her seat by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) in December to replace Rep.-elect Nancy Dahlstrom (R). Dunleavy appointed Dahlstrom as commissioner of the Department of Corrections earlier in the month. Tuck argued in his point of order that, as a member of the executive branch, Meyer is not permitted by the state constitution to receive the governor’s appointment notice.
 
Because no party controls the House, Alaska’s trifecta status is unknown. If Republicans organize a majority, the state will become a Republican trifecta. Otherwise, it will remain under divided government. There are currently 22 Republican trifectas, 14 Democratic trifectas, and 13 states under divided government.


Larry Householder (R) elected speaker of the Ohio House, defeating sitting Speaker Ryan Smith (R)

Rep. Larry Householder (R) was elected as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives on January 7 by a coalition of 26 Republicans and 26 Democrats. Thirty-four Republicans, who hold a 61-38 majority in the chamber, voted for sitting House Speaker Ryan Smith (R). No Democrat ran for the position.
 
In the May 2018 Republican primaries, Smith and Householder supported opposing candidates in 20 races. Householder-backed candidates won 15, Smith-backed candidates won 3, and candidates affiliated with neither won two.
 
In June 2018, Smith was elected as the interim speaker after Republican Cliff Rosenberger resigned early due to an FBI investigation into his activities with lobbyists. Householder-aligned Republicans opposed Smith’s speakership bid, which he won with 44 votes in a four-way race with Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn and two other Republicans.
 
This will be Householder’s second stint as speaker, following a term from 2001 to 2004 after he beat Bill Harris, who was backed by outgoing Speaker Jo Ann Davidson (R). Similar to the 2018 primaries, Householder supported successful primary challengers against candidates aligned with Harris and Davidson.
 
Householder is one of at least six state speakers elected with support from only a minority of the majority party since 1995.
 
Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R) is one example. He was elected speaker in 2009 after the Republican majority fell to 76-74 in the 2008 elections. He unseated the sitting speaker, Tom Craddick (R), with support from 72 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
 
Similarly, California Assembly Democrats helped elect two Republican speakers in 1995 after Republicans won a 41-39 majority in the 1994 elections. The speakers were both opposed by a majority of the Republican caucus.


Alaska Supreme Court rules in favor of LeBon (R) in District 1; control of chamber and state trifecta status still unknown

On January 4, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld Bart LeBon’s (R) one-vote victory over Kathryn Dodge (D) in the Alaska House District 1 election.
 
The court affirmed a finding by special master Eric Aarseth that the State Division of Elections acted properly when it held a recount in the race. Dodge had appealed the recount result, arguing that several ballots were improperly counted for LeBon.
 
The conclusion of the legal battle in District 1 means that all 40 seats in the Alaska House have been decided—Republicans won 23, Democrats won 16, and a Democratic-aligned independent won District 36.
 
However, control of the chamber is not yet decided because only 19 Republicans have committed to caucusing together. Here are the four Republicans who have not committed:
 
• Rep. David Eastman (R) said he would likely join with other Republicans, but he might want a more conservative speaker than David Talerico (R), the caucus’ original choice.
• Rep. Gary Knopp (R) originally said he would caucus with the other Republicans, but he left the caucus in mid-December, saying that a one-member majority would be unstable. He announced his intention to form a 24-member bipartisan majority caucus with power sharing between the parties.
• Reps. Louise Stutes (R) and Gabrielle LeDoux (R) caucused with Democrats from 2017 to 2018 and signed onto a letter in late December announcing their intention to join a bipartisan coalition again.
 
If no majority has organized the chamber by January 15, Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) will preside over the chamber (or appoint a speaker pro tempore) until the House decides its organization.
 
If Republicans organize a majority, they will have gained trifecta control of the state in the 2018 elections. If they do not, the state will operate under divided government.
 
The chamber was controlled by a Democratic-led bipartisan majority caucus from 2017 to 2018 even though Republicans won 21 of 40 seats in the 2016 elections.


469 state legislators lost in 2018, the most since 2012

Four hundred sixty-nine incumbent state legislators lost in 2018 primaries or general elections out of the 4,952 legislators that filed for re-election.
 
The 469 losses were the most since 2012 when 488 legislators were defeated.
 
Overall, the losses include:
  • 119 Democrats
  • 330 Republicans
  • 20 third party or independent legislators
In the November 6 general election, 322 incumbents lost. This was the highest number of general election losses since 2010, when 502 incumbents were defeated. 2018’s general election losses included:
  • 49 Democrats
  • 253 Republicans
  • 20 third party or independent legislators.
In the primaries, 147 incumbents lost, including 70 Democrats and 77 Republicans. In the last four election cycles (2010-2016), only 2012 saw more incumbents lose their primaries—194.
 
Democrats’ 119 incumbent losses was their lowest number since before 2010, while Republicans’ 330 losses was their highest number since 2012. Democrats lost 538 incumbents in 2010, 137 incumbents in 2012, 272 in 2014, and 165 in 2016. Republicans lost 70 incumbents in 2010, 347 in 2012, 125 in 2014, and 187 in 2016.


Compared to previous midterm cycles, Democrat gains in 2018 smaller than usual

The 2018 election cycle, President Donald Trump’s first midterm, saw gains by the Democratic Party in every federal and state government office except the U.S. Senate. However, compared to the first midterms of Presidents Barack Obama (D) (2010), George W. Bush (R) (2002), and Bill Clinton (D) (1994), Democrats’ 2018 gains were the smallest for every office type except governor.
 
• In the U.S. House, Democrats picked up 41 seats, the lowest number for the out-of-power party since 1994. Republicans gained 64 seats in 2010 and 54 seats in 1994. In 2002, Democrats lost eight seats and they were the out-of-power party. The last time the out-of-power party had lost House seats in a president’s first midterm was 1934.
 
• Democrats lost one Senate seat between 2016 and 2018, the same number they lost between 2000 and 2002. Republicans picked up five Senate seats in both the 1994 and 2010 midterms.
 
• Democrats gained 349 state legislative seats, the lowest for the out-of-power party since 1994. Their six pick-ups in state legislative chambers (five state senates and one state house) are also the lowest since 1994.
 
• In gubernatorial races, Democrats gained seven seats, the most for an out-of-power party since 1994 when Republicans picked up 10. In 2010, Republicans picked up six seats. In 2002 Democrats picked up three seats.
 
All comparisons are between the midterm’s result and the result of the preceding election (i.e. 2018 is compared to the results of 2016). Some results in the U.S. House and state legislatures are still pending.


Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to retire in Feb. 2019

Secretary of Defense James Mattis will retire at the end of February 2019, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Thursday. Trump tweeted, “During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!” 
 
Mattis, a former Marine Corps four-star general, became secretary of defense in January 2017 after the U.S. Senate confirmed him in a 98-1 vote. He was the first recently retired general to serve in the position since George C. Marshall in the early 1950s.