photo by James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News, Pool 
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives take their oaths of office on Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the Alaska State Capitol at Juneau. Members were allowed to remove their COVID-19 masks as they took the oath.

photo by James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News, Pool Members of the Alaska House of Representatives take their oaths of office on Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the Alaska State Capitol at Juneau. Members were allowed to remove their COVID-19 masks as they took the oath.

State House remains unorganized after first day

Senate organized quickly, but House remains divided

The Alaska House of Representatives was unable to organize Tuesday, which leaves open the question of who will control the lower house of the state Legislature.

Members met only briefly Tuesday before quickly adjourning following a deadlocked vote over a temporary speaker.

The first vote of the session met an even 20-20 spit between Republicans and Democrats and nonpartisans. Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, nominated Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, as house speaker pro-tempore, a temporary position until leadership can be elected, but that vote failed in an even split.

Rather than debate the issue on the floor, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, called for the House to adjourn until Wednesday at 10. a.m.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will preside over the House until a temporary speaker can be elected. Meyer did the same for the Senate earlier Tuesday, but that body was able to quickly organize.

All 15 Democratic representatives voted against LeBon as temporary speaker. LeBon was among the few Republicans who chose to caucus with Democrats and independents last session to create a bipartisan majority caucus. Kodiak Republican Loiuse Stutes was a member, too, and previously announced she would again vote with that caucus. Stutes also voted against Lebon.

LeBon and fellow Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson both caucused with the bipartisan majority last session, but Tuesday sided with their fellow party members.

Former Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, voted with Democrats, as did three non-affiliated representatives — Ketchikan’s Rep. Dan Ortiz; Anchorage’s Rep. Kevin Schrage and Kotzebue’s Rep. Josiah Patkotak.

Ortiz also caucused with the majority last session and Schrage and Patkotak are serving in the first session of their first terms.

In the hallway after the brief session, Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said LeBon had not been previously agreed upon in discussions before the start of the session. She refused to speculate on how long it would take the state House to elect a leadership but expressed hope it would be quicker than the 34 days it took the 31st Legislature to organize.

“This feels much more optimistic,” she said. “This feels closer than we did two years ago.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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