FAIRBANKS — Less than 24 hours after polls closed, a newly elected contingent of Republican senators announced it had taken control of the Alaska Senate, ousting the bipartisan leadership that has ruled for half a decade.
At an impromptu press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Alaska General Contractors building in Anchorage, a group of 11 Republicans — including three Fairbanksans — announced a tentative Republican majority and its leadership.
“To my left, to my right, is the new Senate majority,” said the newly crowned Senate president, Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “It’s a group of people that have a number of objectives, but the most important is that this group of people wants to represent all Alaskans.”
The new group put plenty of focus on Fairbanks.
Sen. John Coghill will serve as the Republican majority leader.
Fairbanks Sen.-elect Pete Kelly and Sen. Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, will be co-chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee. Kelly held the position before he left the Senate a decade ago.
Sen.-elect Click Bishop also joined the Republican majority. Bishop had been open about the possibility of joining a bipartisan coalition and, on election night, said he’d join whatever coalition best allowed him to tackle energy relief.
Sen. Lesil McGuire, of Anchorage, will take over as chairwoman of the powerful Rules Committee.
Kelly was not present at the news conference. Huggins confirmed reports that the newly elected Fairbanks senator was in Indonesia as part of a church mission trip.
The majority caucus was the product of day-long talks in Anchorage following the result of the Tuesday election, in which several Democrats were defeated. The night yielded a Senate with 13 Republicans and seven Democrats, ending the previous tie in the 20-member body.
A Fairbanks issue also showed up as one of the group’s three main priorities, as outlined by Majority Leader Coghill.
“Obviously, getting more oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline, whether it’s the oil tax or pipeline issues, a sustainable budget will also be one of the key issues,” he said. “For the Interior, and the rest of Alaska, getting gas to market is going to be one of the key issues and getting it to Alaskans first and then to market so we can afford it in Alaska.”
Huggins said, when asked, that he hopes Republican Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, will join the majority. Stevens has served as Senate president for the bipartisan coalition, while Stedman has been a co-chairman of the Finance Committee. Huggins said he also is open to Democrats from the rural areas of the state joining the majority.
Oil taxation was a major issue in the campaign. After the Senate Bipartisan Working Group stopped Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to slash oil taxes during the past legislative session, industry and Republicans launched efforts to defeat susceptible Democrats. Those efforts, combined with new election districts, helped defeat Fairbanks Democrats Sens. Joe Thomas and Joe Paskvan on Tuesday night.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.