Southeast Alaska’s representatives in the state house know their committee assignments following the resolution of several close legislative races in the state’s general election.
Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan won a close race as a non-affiliated candidate to represent his hometown along with Wrangell and other towns in the southern Panhandle. Ortiz has decided to caucus with the minority.
“No matter which caucus I would be a part of, it’s going to be a difficult session with revenue being down, oil prices being down. It’s going to be difficult, first of all, to come up with a balanced budget that meets the needs of the state, and I think that’s the biggest challenge for a person of either caucus,” Ortiz said.
With Ortiz, the minority caucus in the house now numbers 13 of the 40 house seats. He said he is looking forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and is encouraged by the election of Governor Bill Walker.
Ortiz will serve on the Alaska House Fisheries Committee, along with committees on community and regional affairs, transportation and economic development, trade and tourism.
“I think transportation is an important committee to have input in,” Ortiz said. “It’s certainly an important issue in Southeast Alaska, southern Southeast Alaska, and fisheries of course as well. So those two are probably the two things I’m most excited about.”
Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins joins Ortiz on the fisheries committee. He will be starting his second term representing his hometown and other communities in central Southeast and said he is especially excited about his assignments on fisheries and education.
“Fisheries and education are two realms of public policy where you’ve got policy ideas that don’t necessarily divide folks on party lines and are a lot more difficult to categorize in really black and white ideological terms. And there’s a lot of ideas you can put forward, at least I’d like to think and believe, that can attract broad support from both sides of the aisle and all different perspectives in both education and fisheries,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
Kreiss-Tomkins has also been tapped for the state affairs committee and the rules committee. He is also excited with the new makeup of the house, with Democrats gaining two seats and with Ortiz joining the caucus.
“That makes for a more moderate legislature,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “So when we’re talking some of the proposed constitutional amendments, many of which I and other rural legislators have found concerning, those constitutional amendments require super majorities. And the math becomes a lot more difficult for these amendments to pass with these changes in the elections.”
The Democratic pickups in the house boosted the number of seats on some of the committees for the minority members.
As for other Southeast representatives, Democrat Sam Kito III of Juneau has assignments on labor and commerce, the legislative council and the legislative budget and audit committee.
Republican Kathy Muñoz of Juneau is caucusing with the House Majority and will be the only Southeast representative on the House Finance Committee.
Meanwhile, Southeast’s senators do not yet know all their committee assignments. Dennis Egan of Juneau is caucusing with the Senate minority while Bert Stedman remains with the Senate majority. Neither is in top leadership positions announced by the majority this month, but they should have committee assignments in December.