Current Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault is “leaning” towards going for his fourth term as speaker, he said. If a majority of his caucus decides to support him again in November, shortly after the general election, it will make him the longest serving speaker in the state’s history. He’s survived for so long because he’s cunning, wily and from most accounts, he’s done a good job of keeping things moving and keeping his members relatively content. As content, that is, as 30 power-hungry politicians can be.
But Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson, who’s been in the House since 2006 and is currently Rules Chair, thinks it’s time for a change. Johnson said in an interview on Thursday night that if he wins his House seat in November—which is likely—he’ll also be vying to be speaker. He’s beenlobbying fellow lawmakers to give him their support when it comes time to vote. “I am asking for support to be speaker and I think I have it,” he said.
Johnson said that he respects Chenault and that he could very well be the best Speaker of the House that the state has ever had. However, having the same person in that seat for so long, “inhibits growth and thwarts ambitions,” particularly with new, younger members.
“Change can be good,” Johnson said.
Anchorage House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt also said that House members seem hungry to “shake things up.”
He’s said that Chenault has done a great job, but he likened the House leadership to snow globes. “It’s nice to shake them,” he said, adding that if Johnson is speaker, he’d like to be Chair of Rules.
When reached on the phone on Thursday, Chenault said that the news didn’t completely surprise him. He and Johnson have been talking about it since the session ended in April. And he suspects that they’ll “work something out” before it gets to the vote.
If they can’t work it out?
“I like to think I’ve done a reasonable job, and have enough support, but anything can happen,” Chenault said.
“There’s a lot of time between now and then. Lots of people will tell you today that they support you, but when it comes down to it, they might pull that support.”
The majority caucus meets within days after the general election in November to vote on positions. People throw their hat in the ring and then lobby for votes. Promises are made. Cliques are formed. Calculations are taken. Deals are made.
Here’s the important thing: they vote via secret ballot, and often times how members say they will vote, and how they actually do vote, are two different things.
In the 2012 meeting, it was assumed by many that Rep. Mike Hawker had Finance co-Chair sewn up. When the votes were counted, however, Rep. Bill Stoltze, took that position.
How much support each of them will get in November will in large part be based on what they do for the members between now and then to make sure they keep their seats.
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