The House extended its record 29-day streak without organization Tuesday, February 12, but not without a fascinating plot twist on the House floor.
Rep. Dave Talerico (R-Healy) seemed poised to be elected speaker of the House after failing to garner more than 20 votes on three prior occasions.
Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai) cast the deciding vote twice. He was absent for a third vote.
On Tuesday, Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) nominated Knopp himself to be speaker.
Knopp acknowledged the nomination was “clearly a surprise.”
Knopp declined to join the Republican caucus in November, saying a 21-member majority would be dysfunctional. Instead, Knopp called for a larger bipartisan coalition that would agree to focus on the budget, keep the current oil tax system in place, and not adopt new taxes.
“Representative Knopp has been a tireless champion for all Alaskans in standing firmly for the belief that what Alaska needs most in a House is a House that can work together effectively, regardless of party affiliation,” Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) said on the House floor.
The Midnight Sun reports that a deal was in place Monday afternoon that would have seen at least four Republicans join the 19 members of the former Democrat-led House Majority Coalition.
However, Knopp rejected it in favor of a 21-member Republican majority, telling multiple media outlets of his plans to join. Knopp met with House Republicans Monday to make sure they would welcome him back.
Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) asked what changed overnight.
Knopp said members of the former House Majority Coalition approached him late Monday and asked to put him forward to see if Knopp could draw any Republican support.
“It is very true that yesterday I stated I would be the twenty-first vote for a Republican nominee. I never said who I would support,” explained Knopp. “I am supporting a Republican nominee, myself.”
Rep. Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake) said Knopp’s behavior left him without confidence in Knopp’s ability to lead an organized House.
“One of the first things I learned down here, Mr. Speaker, is that all you’ve got is your word,” Neuman said, directing his comments through Speaker Pro Tem Neal Foster (D-Nome).
Knopp’s nomination failed 20-20.
District 30 Republican Party members met Monday night, passing a resolution encouraging Knopp to join the Republican caucus or resign, according to The Alaska Landmine.
Prior to the vote on Knopp, the House rejected Talerico for the fourth time, in a separate 20-20 vote. Knopp again cast the deciding vote against Talerico on Tuesday.
Talerico would likely have been elected speaker on Monday, but Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Nikiski) was absent. The House gaveled out after a one-minute session.
After nominating him, Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) said Talerico “has the character, the demeanor, the leadership, and the heart to lead this organization at a critical time in the history of our state.”
Kopp optimistically said, “I know our body is ready to move forward.”
Tuesday’s shenanigans mean there is still no fully functioning State government on the eve of the release of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s revised FY 2020 budget, expected to contain $1.6 billion in cuts.
As long as there is no House majority, the House cannot hold formal hearings on the budget.
The full Senate Finance Committee has hearings on the budget scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Senate budget subcommittees are already at work.
Based on Republicans’ comments, the caucus will look to someone other than Knopp for their twenty-first member.
“This calls into question the ability of this caucus or this group to come together,” a disappointed Neuman said on the floor.
Meanwhile, the House continues to fall farther behind the Senate.
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