Republican House nominees also won 21 seats—though as we’ll discuss, they don't overlap perfectly with Trump's—while Democrats took 15 and independents prevailed in the remaining four. But even though Republicans have enjoyed a nominal majority in the 40-member House since 1995, an ever-shifting Democratic-led coalition known as the Majority Caucus has run the chamber since 2017.
In February of this year, after months of wrangling, the latest iteration of this alliance came together, continuing this complex state of affairs. The 19 Democrats and independents were joined by two Republicans―Louise Stutes, who was made speaker, and Kelly Merrick―to control a bare majority of 21 seats. (One Democrat, Geran Tarr, temporarily left the coalition while still voting to put it in power, but she’s since rejoined the rest of her party.) The hardline Republican caucus holds 18 seats, while the final member, Republican Sara Rasmussen, does not belong to either bloc.
All 15 Democrats represent Biden turf, as do three independents and one Republican. Republicans fell just short, though, of securing a second Biden seat, and potentially control of the House along with it. Democrat Liz Snyder unseated Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, who had hoped to assume the speakership, 50.0-49.8 in HD-27, an Anchorage-based district that Biden took 51-45. Snyder's margin was just 11 votes, smaller than the 17 write-in votes that made up the balance.
A second Majority Caucus member, independent Calvin Schrage, unseated Republican incumbent Mel Gillis 52-48 in HD-25, another Anchorage seat that Biden won just 49-47. (Schrage was listed on the ballot as a Democrat because of a last-minute change by state election officials, as was Bryce Edgmon; both representatives have continued to identify as independents.)
Three coalition members, meanwhile, represent Trump districts. Stutes, the Republican who became speaker as part of the deal that determined control of the chamber, was reelected without opposition in HD-32 along the southwestern coast, which backed Trump 53-42. Stutes belonged to the previous majority coalition as well, but while national Republicans unseated other renegade members in last year's primaries, she sailed through without any intraparty opposition.
Merrick, who was not part of the Majority Caucus last year, easily won reelection in HD-14, a 59-37 Trump seat in the Anchorage area. Finally, independent Daniel Ortiz beat a Republican opponent 60-39 even as Trump was winning HD-36, which is based in Ketchikan in the southernmost part of the state, by a 55-41 margin. Ortiz, who was part of the 2017 and 2019 coalitions, has won reelection by double digits ever since his first tight race in 2014.
The lone member of the Republican caucus in a Biden seat is James Kaufman, who unseated a member of the prior Majority Caucus in last year's primary. Kaufman went on to prevail 50-46 the general election in HD-28, another Anchorage district that went for Biden by a narrow 49-48. The Republican who came the closest to losing was David Nelson, who earned his first term 51-49 in HD-15, a nearby district that supported Trump 48-47.
Finally, there’s Rasmussen, the one House member who doesn’t belong to either caucus. (Rasmussen explained her odd choice in vague terms, saying only that she believed the best way to achieve her goals of reduced taxation and spending would be to remain entirely independent.) The Anchorage Republican defeated an independent 55-30 to hold HD-22, which went for Trump by a 49-48 spread.
Alaska Republicans made a serious effort to unseat coalition members through party primaries in 2020 and succeeded in several cases, but not enough to ultimately make the difference. Should they try again in the future, however, such an effort could be much harder thanks to the subsequent passage of a referendum called Measure 2 last year. Starting in 2022, all candidates from all parties (including independents) will face off on a single primary ballot. The top four vote-getters—regardless of party—will advance to the general election, where a winner will be chosen via an instant runoff.
This new system, which is the first of its kind in the United States, could make it easier for more pragmatic Republican legislators to form crossparty alliances and still keep their seats now that they no longer have to worry quite so much about protecting their right flank in GOP primaries.
We’ll turn briefly to the 20-member Alaska Senate, where Republicans are firmly in control. Two House districts are nested within each Senate district, which are identified by letters rather than numbers. Trump took 12 districts in the upper chamber to Biden’s eight, though there’s some crossover voting on both sides. Two Republicans, Mia Costello and Roger Holland, represent Biden constituencies, while Democrat Scott Kawasaki won on Trump turf. Altogether, 13 candidates were elected as Republicans compared to seven Democrats.
While Democrats hoped before the election that GOP infighting would give them a chance to forge a crosspartisan alliance like the one agreed to in the House—and similar to the coalition that ran the upper chamber from 2006 to 2012—Republicans managed to unite after 11 weeks of negotiations. All 13 Republicans belong to the majority, as does Democrat Lyman Hoffman, who has caucused with the GOP since the 2014 elections.
Hoffman holds District S, which supported Biden 55-39, but he’s never faced serious primary opposition. There’s a good reason for that: This sprawling rural seat, which includes the Aleutian Islands and areas to the north, is home to a large Native American population where leaders have long prized clout and seniority and thus see it as prudent for their legislators to join whatever majority they can.
Redistricting in Alaska is carried out by a five-member commission that's slanted in the GOP's favor. The governor names two members, while the chief justice of the state Supreme Court (a Republican appointee) and both legislative leaders each appoint one. Last year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the leader of the Senate selected three Republican members, while the chief justice and the speaker of the House both tapped independents. The state’s extremely complex politics, though, mean that it’s far from clear that the commission will draw favorable lines for Republicans when all is said and done.
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