FAIRBANKS - Less than 24 hours after polls closed, a newly elected contingent of Republican Senators announced it has taken control of the Senate, ousting the bipartisan leadership that had ruled it for half a decade.
At an impromptu press conference at the Alaska General Contractors building in Anchorage on Wednesday afternoon, 11 Republicans—including three Fairbanksans—announced the change as well as new leadership, putting plenty of focus on Fairbanks.
“To my left, to my right, is the new Senate majority,” said 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.”
Huggins went on to outline other leadership positions. Fairbanks Sen. John Coghill Jr., R-Fairbanks, will serve as the Republican Majority Leader. Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, will join Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, as the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, a position he held before he left the Senate a decade ago. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, will take over as chair of the powerful Rules Committee.
The majority is the product of daylong talks in Anchorage following the result of the Tuesday-night election, where a number of Democrats were defeated. The night yielded 13 Republicans and seven Democrats, splitting the previous tie in the 20-member body.
Fairbanks got plenty of mentions during the announcement, which is likely a nod to the impact the newly elected Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, brought to the table. 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.
And Fairbanks showed up in 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 Alaskans first and then to market so we can afford it in Alaska.
“Fairbanks is having its dire needs right now and we just got to work on getting that gas to market,” he said. “The interior, Alaska generally, sustainable budgeting, getting some more oil flowing through that pipeline and gas for Alaskans.”
When asked about the notable absence of two Republican senators, Sens. Bert Stedman and Gary Stevens, Huggins said he anticipates they’ll join, adding he’s also open to Bush Caucus Democrats joining too.
Oil taxes had been a major issue in the campaign. After the Bipartisan Working Group had stopped Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to slash oil taxes, industry and Republican launched efforts to defeat susceptible Democrats. Those efforts, matched with a Republican-leaning redistricting effort, 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.