Rep. Dave Talerico (R-Healy) continued his role Friday, January 25, as quasi-speaker of the House, calling for the House to organize under Republican leadership.

House Republicans declared Talerico the new speaker the day after the November election, but Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai) declined to join a 21-member caucus.

Instead, Knopp called for a larger bipartisan coalition that would be more stable.

House members took nominations for a permanent speaker on Tuesday, a move required on Day 8 of the session under the legislature’s Uniform Rules.

Talerico’s nomination failed 20-20.  Knopp joined the 19 remaining members of the old House Majority Coalition in voting against Talerico.

“I’m pretty steadfast in my position about the bipartisan coalition.  It forces me to vote against a member of my own [party] and to keep this door open for this coalition talk,” Knopp explained on the floor before his vote.

Knopp said he would vote against former Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) for the same reason.

Edgmon’s nomination was withdrawn after Talerico’s nomination failed.

The House is still not organized after 11 days in session, meaning it cannot hold committee hearings.

House members adjourned Friday having made no new attempt to nominate a speaker, leaving it until Monday at the earliest.

“We’re all anxious to bring this to an end and get started,” Talerico assured reporters Friday.

House members have been holding informal, informational meetings with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Revenue, and others.

“While we’re trying to get the organization together and get ourselves structured, we’re trying to make sure that the information that all legislators will eventually need to work on the budget and work our way through the session, that there’s some information out there,” Talerico said.

Talerico said caucus negotiations are still taking place.  He pledged to work on the issue through the weekend.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency,” Talerico said, adding, “I certainly can’t speak for everyone in the House.”

In a quickly prepared statement posted by Juneau Empire’s Kevin Baird, Edgmon wrote, “Both sides in the House are continuing to work hard to form a Majority organization so that immediate action can be taken on the Governor’s budget when it is released on February 13.  Given the expectation of major reductions, it is essential that we have a strong Majority organization in place to make the difficult decisions facing Alaska.”

Talerico opined that starting with the $1.6 billion in cuts expected from Gov. Mike Dunleavy will actually make budget conversations easier, rather than having to figure out what to cut.

Talerico said that with 23 Republicans in the House, there should be a Republican speaker and Republican leadership.

Two of those Republicans are Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) and Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), both of whom caucused with Democrats in the last legislature and were consequently targeted by the Alaska Republican Party in the election.  They were not announced as part of the Talerico-led Republican caucus in November.

A third Republican is Knopp.

In an op-ed in the Peninsula Clarion, Knopp wrote his conditions for a caucus are that it oppose changes to the oil and gas tax system, oppose new broad-based taxes, and place a hold on personal legislation.

Talerico agrees that the oil and gas tax structure should remain in place, and his constituents oppose an income tax or statewide sales tax.

However, he said most bills could be described as “personal legislation.”  It would be wrong to dictate to people who are representing their constituents.  Doing so could have the unintended effect of preventing a good idea on generating new revenue, he suggested.

“We’re such a diverse state with all kinds of different needs in different communities,” said Talerico.  “I would probably be the last guy to tell another legislator, ‘This is what I think you can do, and this is what I think you can’t do.’”  

“We’re all a bunch of Class A personalities,” Talerico explained of the delay in organizing.  “We have our ideologies and we have what we think we need to do and everything.  It’s really important that we continue to talk to each other, because in order to get past that, we have to communicate well with each other and have a little better understanding of each other.  And that’s actually what we’re starting to accomplish now.”

In comments similar to those he and other Republicans made on Monday, Talerico ventured that the House will organize next week.

“It’s my estimation that we’re getting closer all of the time,” he said.

This article brought to you by Alaska’s own The Cheapest Key and their tune “Morning Light.”   The Cheapest Key’s new studio album Postcard is available today.  Find upcoming dates of their Southcentral tour here.

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