Rep. Bryce Edgmon was elected speaker of the House on Thursday, breaking a 31-day gridlock. This is the second time he has served as speaker. His election comes days after he changed his party affiliation.
Representative Bryce Edgmon has been elected speaker of the House, breaking a 31-day stalemate. He was elected 21 to 18, with one excused vote.
The House has been in a stalemate since the legislature began 31 days ago. On Tuesday, both Republican Rep. Dave Talerico’s and Rep. Gary Knopp's nominations fell one vote short, resulting in 20-20 splits. Without a speaker, the House could not begin its official business. Now that they have one, Edgmon said that the next step is to appoint committee chairs.
"We have spent a lot of time sort of setting the stage in terms of what the bigger goals are going to be for session, and setting the stage for cooperation between the two different caucuses leading up to today's activity where we actually got a speaker elected," he said.
Another task the House will tackle this session is the state budget. Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled his budget proposal on Wednesday, and Edgmon said that it will take a few weeks for legislators to piece through the changes. But he stressed that he would focus on protecting what he sees as critical state services.
"I don't think we've ever, ever seen the magnitude of reductions, ever in Alaska's history, that the Dunleavy administration is proposing. We've all been bracing ourselves for huge reductions, but to see the university essentially be cut in half, the marine highway system something like 75 percent. Some of these incredible reductions, which really remove on a wholesale level very important programs and services. It's just a long list of things that we'll be focusing on."
Edgmon's election was preceded by his change of party affiliation from Democrat to undeclared earlier this week.
"If it was something I had to do in order to facilitate an agreement to put a majority coalition together relative to my being reelected as speaker, I was willing to do it," he said. "I talked it over with a number of folks throughout the district, and didn't make the decision very lightly. The response I got back was, 'Hey, if it makes you more effective for the district and better positions you on behalf of our communities, do it.'"
Edgmon also pointed to his independent voting record and cited his history of bipartisan caucusing.
"Regardless of how or what political party I may be affiliated with, I am who I am," he said. "My core values will stay the same. I work really hard on behalf of my district and small communities, and that's just not going to change."
During the vote Thursday morning, Anchorage Republicans Jennifer Johnston and Chuck Kopp joined the mainly Democratic coalition in electing Edgmon.
"We have let partisan gridlock stop the House," Kopp said on the House floor. "Mr. Speaker Pro Tem, many times I have asked myself hard questions. Whether or not the gridlock was something of my own making, or whether I could be a catalyst for change. I am proud to say that moving the House forward is a higher value, not only in my district, but for the state as a whole, than to remain status quo."
Other Republicans, like Wasilla Rep. David Eastman, said that selecting Edgmon would go against what voters mandated in last year's midterm elections.
"I think the voters made it fairly clear state-wide that they were asking for change," Eastman said. "They knew of the previous speaker and his tenure, and the two years that he had served. And they asked us through their votes and through who they sent here to this body, that we on their behalf would be part of making that new change happen."
Edgmon served as speaker for the previous legislature. He has represented District 37 since 2007 and was reelected by almost 30 points in last year’s midterm elections.
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