- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Democrats and moderate Republicans have joined forces to take control of the Alaska House, a move that drew swift condemnation by the chairman of the state Republican party.

Members of the new organization say the leadership shakeup was fueled by a desire to tackle the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

But state GOP chairman Tuckerman Babcock accused the three Republicans who joined with Democrats and independents in creating a new House majority of “abandoning” their team. He invited them to “drop the pretense that you are Republican and leave the Republican Party.”

Babcock’s comments were posted in the form of an open letter to Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, Paul Seaton of Homer and Louise Stutes of Kodiak on the party’s Facebook page, party spokeswoman Suzanne Downing said. The GOP also released the statement to reporters.

Under the new structure, LeDoux will serve as House Rules Committee chair. Seaton will lead the House Finance Committee alongside Democrat Neal Foster of Nome.

Democratic Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham will be House speaker, while Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck, now the minority leader, will become the majority leader.

Seaton was among those who had expressed frustration with the pace of progress in addressing the deficit.

He told reporters Wednesday that one of the challenges during the last session was that people were working on their own agendas rather than looking at ways to come together on a fiscal plan.

The lawmakers who will comprise the new House majority group were individually elected “based on the idea of passing a comprehensive, sustainable fiscal plan,” Seaton said.

Babcock’s comments were made public after the news conference announcing the new organization, which is expected to take control when the new Legislature convenes in January.

The new majority, as proposed, stands at 22 members, including Stutes, independent Jason Grenn and Democrat Justin Parish.

Votes counted Election Day showed Stutes with a lead of less than 100 votes over challenger Duncan Fields. It was not clear how many uncounted absentee or questioned ballots might be pending for that and other close House races. Grenn led Republican Rep. Liz Vazquez of Anchorage by about 220 votes. Parish led Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz by about 180.

Both the House and Senate currently are led by Republican-led majorities. The Senate will remain under Republican control.

The new 15-member Senate majority, announced Wednesday, will include one Democrat, Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.

Sen. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks will be Senate president. Sen. Peter Micciche of Soldotna will be majority leader. Sens. Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River and Hoffman will chair the Senate Finance Committee.

Kelly said working with the House last session was tough because it was so divided. He expects the coming session to be difficult, too, due to philosophical divides between the House and Senate. But he said the two chambers share some of the same goals.

In addressing the deficit, Kelly favors trying to have “one big success” and avoid complicating the situation to the point of confusion, a recommendation that he said he’s made to the governor.

When there are a lot of different elements in play, “you just provide too many people with reasons to say no to just about anything and you go into gridlock,” Kelly said.


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