But the House's 15 Democrats and three allied independents were able to woo a fourth independent to their side, and Stutes, who'd been part of the Majority Coalition from the start, remained in the fold. That left the House evenly divided between the coalition and GOP hardliners.
After the legislature convened last month, Republicans unsuccessfully tried to elect a speaker from their own ranks several times but each vote failed in a 20-20 tie. That stalemate finally ended when sophomore Republican Kelly Merrick sided with the coalition to elevate Stutes to the top job. The Midnight Sun's Matt Acuña Buxton described Merrick's switch as a "surprise" but noted that she's been "quietly labor-friendly during her time in office."
Another key factor may have been Alaska's adoption of a novel "top-four" primary, which greatly reduces the chances for hard-right ideologues to punish Republicans like Merrick and Stutes. In fact, suggests Buxton, now that the logjam has at last been busted open, other Republicans might yet defect to the Majority Coalition, lured by the possibility of plum committee assignments or leadership posts. Merrick, however, emphasized that she was not joining the coalition but said she’d acted so that lawmakers could finally begin their substantive work.
Most importantly for Democrats and their allies, with the state Senate in GOP hands, this development ensures the House can continue to serve as a bulwark against Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, whose ongoing efforts to make draconian cuts to the state budget have played a key role in uniting his diverse array of opponents.
● AL-Sen: Republican Katie Boyd Britt, a former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, says she's considering a bid to replace her old boss, though she didn't offer a timeline regarding a possible decision. Britt is CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, a Chamber of Commerce type organization.
● OH-Sen: Josh Mandel didn't even wait 24 hours to prove once again that he's the most mendacious, fraudulent thug in the entire Republican Party. On the very same day he announced his third bid for Senate, Mandel repeated Donald Trump's bald-faced lie that the election was stolen, and even suggested this resoundingly debunked conspiracy theory had inspired him to run in the first place.
"I think over time, we're going to see studies come out that evidence widespread fraud," Mandel baselessly insisted. "You know, what you see with any type of fraud, it usually takes time to investigate it and to dig it out, and it might be months, it might be years, it might be decades. But I think when we look back on this election, we'll see in large part that it was stolen from President Trump."
We've already set a calendar reminder for Feb. 10, 2041 to whip this statement back out and shove it in Mandel's lying face. What makes it even worse is Mandel's further comment: "I've been watching this sham and unconstitutional impeachment, and it's really made my blood boil and it's motivated me to run for the U.S. Senate," he said—a statement that WKYC's Mark Naymik noted was repeated "nearly verbatim from his campaign press release," and indeed it is.
Mandel, in fact, is one of the most extreme examples of a robo-politician who's always on repeat. On his launch day, he also berated Gov. Mike DeWine over his aggressive efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, saying, "The fact that they shut down all these family-owned businesses and restaurants while they allowed conglomerates like Walmart and Target and Costco to stay open makes my blood boil." Someone better get him a transfusion stat—blood type A-hole-positive.
As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Jessie Balmert observes, Mandel's attacks on DeWine are particularly awkward because, at least in theory, Mandel wants to wind up on a ticket with the incumbent governor next-year. On top of that, he echoed the classic line used by anti-vaxxers everywhere, saying he might not get a COVID vaccination because "I'm a strong believer in individual liberty and personal freedom and it should be up to every individual to choose what's best for them." In other words, he'd like to prolong the day we finally (hopefully) achieve herd immunity and cause more needless deaths, even though he himself contracted the virus last year and lost his sense of taste.
And to leave no doubt about exactly whom Mandel would ally with should we have the grave misfortune to see him join the Senate in two years' time, he made sure to announce during his day-one media blitz that he'd have voted to overturn the results of last year's election. "If I was a United States senator, I would have been standing with Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rick Scott in holding up the certification of the election," he told reporters.
Having had the extreme displeasure of covering every moment of his failed 2012 bid, we can guarantee there's going to be much, much more like this from Mandel throughout his campaign. But as distasteful as it is, it's just as critical we document his every dangerous lie and diseased statement—and we will. We guarantee that, too.
● OH-Sen: Wealthy businessman Mike Gibbons says he'll decide on whether to join the GOP primary for Ohio's open Senate seat in "the next few weeks" and says he'd self-fund $5 million if he does in fact get in. Gibbons pumped $2.7 million of his own money into his unsuccessful 2018 Senate bid, when he lost the Republican nomination to then-Rep. Jim Renacci 47-32.
● FL-Gov: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who recently confirmed he was considering seeking his party's nomination for governor a second time, now says he likely won't have a decision for "several months." Spectrum News' Mitch Perry adds that Crist expressed "enthusiasm" about a possible bid by state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who was Crist's running-mate in 2014 and said last week that she was thinking about a campaign of her own. However, Perry notes that Crist also offered "praise" for three other women who might run for governor: state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Rep. Val Demings, and state Rep. Anna Eskamani.
● OH-16: You thought you were done with Josh Mandel for this Digest? Well, yeah, so did we. But while you might imagine Mandel would have slightly more important affairs to attend to, he says he's busy trying to recruit former Donald Trump aide Max Miller to run against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who last month voted to impeach Trump. Miller hasn't yet said anything about his interest.