House Republicans pick Coghill as majority leader

Posted: Monday, January 20, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- House Republicans chose Rep. John Coghill -- a fiery conservative who once stormed out of the GOP camp over subsistence -- as their majority leader on Sunday.

Coghill, a three-term lawmaker from North Pole, said he would represent the GOP majority, but also speak up when he disagrees with them. Republicans will hold a 28-12 advantage in the House when the Legislature convenes Tuesday.

House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, expressed faith that Coghill would be an effective floor leader.

''As my right-hand man, I am certainly confident in his abilities to unify,'' Kott said.

House Republicans met behind closed doors for more than two hours to consider a replacement for former Rep. Lisa Murkowski, who had earlier been chosen majority leader.

Murkowski stepped down from the House after she was appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill the remaining two years of his U.S. Senate term.

At least four Republican lawmakers were vying for the leadership role that Murkowski vacated. The others were Reps. Gary Stevens of Kodiak, Lesil McGuire of Anchorage and Beverly Masek of Willow.

Kott said he nominated McGuire shortly before the deliberations began, but she chose not to seek the post. Republicans refused to make public the vote tallies.

House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, who frequently sparred with Coghill last session on the State Affairs Committee, said he works well with the new leader. Berkowitz said the two share a ''strong Libertarian streak.''

''We agreed on a lot,'' said Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat. ''It surprises people.''

Coghill, the son of former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, was first elected in 1998. He was among four conservatives who stormed out of the GOP caucus in 1999 after a fight over subsistence.

As a result, Reps. Scott Ogan of Palmer, Vic Kohring of Wasilla, Jerry Sanders of Anchorage and Coghill were stripped of key committee assignments.

Coghill ran unopposed in the November general election after defeating former Majority Leader Jeannette James in the Republican primary in August.

In picking Coghill, Republican lawmakers also removed him from the influential House Finance Committee and gave that seat to freshman Rep. Mike Hawker.

Hawker is one of two Anchorage Republicans on the budget-writing committee. Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, was also named chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit committee.

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