FAIRBANKS - With the ruling majority undecided and a joint coalition possibly in the works, the Alaska House of Representatives is facing difficulties hiring staff for the upcoming legislative session. Without knowing who will hold leadership positions or committee seats, legislators are unable to sort out who to hire.
Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson said the only staff he’s been able to hire is his chief of staff, noting the rest of the hiring process has been halted by uncertainties.
“It’s kind of at a standstill. Nobody knows yet what we’re going to be doing once we get organized,” Thompson said. “Are you going to be on Finance (Committee)? If you are, you’re going to need a person who knows numbers.”
Thompson said it’s hard to tell when the House will be able to organize.
“We just don’t know right now,” he said. “With the restrictions in place until we get organized, you can’t really afford to hire somebody or even know who you might need to hire.”
While nothing is set in stone, Thompson said he’s worried it will be a while before anything moves forward with regard to House leadership.
“I’ve got a feeling we’re going to end up down in Juneau without staffing sorted out yet,” he said.
This stall in staffing and House organization has happened before, Thompson recalled.
“This happened in the early ’80s, I think, and apparently they ended up 20 days into session before anything was organized or figured out,” he said. “That just sounds terrible. It’s scary.”
Thompson said travel to Juneau has been authorized for legislators and the few staff members who have been hired.
“But I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a mad scramble once we’re organized to be able to get the people we need in staffing positions,” he said.
This impasse in hiring has not only affected state representatives but also potential staffers also.
“A lot of people’s offers are still up in the air and dependent on organization, including experienced staffers,” said Alliana Salanguit, a previous staffer for former Rep. David Guttenberg.
This stand still in the House is due to what looks to be an even split in House caucuses. After the Nov. 6 election, Republicans held a narrow 21-19 majority in the House. This soon crumbled as Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp left the GOP caucus to force a joint coalition similar to that of sessions past.
Upon announcing his departure from the Republican caucus, Knopp noted the previous 21-19 split was unstable at best and likely to “implode mid-session.”
In addition to a lack of leadership, the House District 1 race between Republican Bart LeBon and Democrat Kathryn Dodge is still in the midst of an appeal filed by Dodge in early December.
After a state funded recount Nov. 30, Dodge sat behind LeBon by a single vote.
Thompson said he’s not concerned about the outcome of the vote, but rather that the outcome won’t change the stalemate in the House.
“I have confidence that Bart LeBon is going survive this, but it still doesn’t give us a majority,” Thompson said. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it proceeds.”
The legislative session begins Jan. 15 in Juneau.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.