House District 36’s independent Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan sent out a letter Thursday to other members of the State House urging the formation of a coalition caucus.
Ortiz writes in the letter that he respects Republican Rep. Gary Knopp for “recognizing the fragility of a small, partisan majority” and leaving the Republican caucus on Monday.
A Republican majority had not yet been established. One House race is so close that it’s now up to the courts to determine a winner. Even if that race ends up in favor of Republicans, the majority would have been slim. Without Knopp, though, no party now will have a majority.
Ortiz says he hoped his letter would jump-start discussion of forming a coalition. He’s had some responses from other members of the House.
“Generally positive. Not entirely, though,” he said. “It was not surprising to me that they weren’t all positive, but the majority certainly were. Just statements of support for the letter, and statements of support for the message of the letter and recognition from people on both sides that, sooner or later, there has to be common agreement to go forward.”
Because, he says, without a majority on one side or the other, a coalition will be required. And time is running short.
“Yes it is. Yes it is. That was another one of the reasons why I wrote the letter,” he said. “There’s some talk that we might go into the session without the issue being resolved.”
In that case, Ortiz says, there won’t be a speaker. That means the lieutenant governor would step into a limited role guiding the House, but in general, things would be on hold until some kind of coalition forms.
Ortiz says if that is the case, it wouldn’t be the first time in state history. He says it happened back in the 1980s.
“And they went a number of days, I think it was past 10, without a speaker and without a majority coalition,” he said.
However, Ortiz says, that’s not a good reason for it to happen again.
The Alaska Legislature is due to convene Jan. 15th, with or without a majority House caucus.
Below is a copy of the emailed letter Ortiz sent to other state lawmakers.
To my fellow House members,
Events over the past week have forced open the doors of opportunity. I respect Representative Knopp for recognizing the fragility of a small, partisan majority. Our government was not established by one party or the other, nor one region. It takes people on both sides of the aisle, and all parts of our great state, coming together and putting the needs of Alaskans first.
I urge all of us to put aside party differences to form a coalition that’s united in acting for the best interests of all Alaskans. I envision a coalition in which members are committed first and foremost to compromise for the common good, rather than for the interests of our political parties and other dividing forces.
The words of late Senator John McCain ring true: “The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems… I hope we can rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by doing so better serve the people who elected us.”
At the end of the day we are beholden to our constituents, all of them. The needs of our districts are as diverse as our state, but with a strong independent House we can achieve them. Although I may be the only member with an ‘I’ next to my name, my experience serving in the legislature has shown me that we are more effective when we all work across party lines. In the most recent session, we were only able to pass important pieces of legislation when members of both caucuses pressed the yea vote.
As Abraham Lincoln said during his Gettysburg Address, “We are not enemies, but friends.” We ultimately strive for the same goal: the betterment of Alaska – an Alaska that is safe, healthy, and prosperous. As we begin organizing for this upcoming term, I appeal to “the better angels of our nature” and ask that we stand united in our shared commitment to our State. Let’s get to work.
Representative Dan Ortiz