Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, was named the new Speaker of the Alaska House by unanimous vote of the Republican majority caucus Thursday, and other house members from the Kenai Peninsula were appointed to choice committee chairs.
Meeting in Anchorage, the caucus organized its membership in preparation for the 26th Legislature convening Jan. 20.
"I am proud to take over the mantle of speaker of the House from John Harris (R-Valdez)," Chenault said in a prepared statement. "John guided us through some pretty intense times during his four years wielding the gavel."
Chenault also announced leadership positions and chairmanships, saying he believed they had assembled a diverse and talented team.
"I am pleased we were able to find a regional balance of representatives for our seats on the Finance Committee. We look forward to the legislative session in January, and the opportunity to work with the governor as we set a course for Alaskans and our state's future."
Reached late Thursday afternoon, Chenault said he saw the speaker's job as forwarding the will of the House.
"As issues are prioritized, it's the speaker's job to communicate with the administration and the Senate and make those priorities a reality," he said. "There are a number of hoops to be jumped through, but it's the speaker's responsibility to have the vision how to accomplish those tasks and to get them done in a timely manner to get business done and go home."
The Legislature's number one priority would be the operating budget, he said, but he cautioned that budgeting problems would be compounded by dropping oil prices and declining production.
He also noted education and ensuring a supply of gas to instate users also would be at the top of the priority list. That goes for energy as a whole.
The old Oil and Gas Committee has been changed to the Energy Committee, headed by Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. It will consider wider energy issues and consider projects looking for funding through the new renewable energy fund.
"I think it will have a lot of meetings this year," Chenault said.
The new speaker said he expects to have a good working relationship with minority Democrats.
"We will have the opportunity to work across party lines to get things done for Alaska," he said.
Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, will chair the House Labor & Commerce Committee.
"There will be several workers' compensation bills. We will address the upcoming change in the minimum wage, and we'll see a tremendous amount of support for a bullet line. That's close to the top of everybody's list, to get gas from the Foothills down to Southcentral," Olson said.
Olson said he was pleased that Chenault was named speaker.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, will head up the House Education Committee, which he said would cover everything from pre-kindergarten and K-12, through the University of Alaska, adult education and workforce training.
Regarding Chenault, Seaton said he would do a find job as speaker.
"He's a real cool head and does things in a measured and moderate way," Seaton said. "That will be very helpful."
Other appointments announced Thursday included Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, who was named majority leader, and Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who was tapped to head the House Rules Committee.
Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak/Mat-Su, will co-chair the powerful House Finance Committee.
Other members of Finance include Republicans Bill Thomas, of Haines, Mike Kelly, of Fairbanks, Anna Fairclough, of Eagle River, Alan Austerman, of Kodiak, and Richard Foster, D-Nome.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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