Senator-elect Jesse Bjorkman, center, participates in a candidate forum Oct. 17, 2022, at the Soldotna Public Library. Bjorkman was elected in November to represent Alaska Senate District D on the Kenai Peninsula. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Senator-elect Jesse Bjorkman, center, participates in a candidate forum Oct. 17, 2022, at the Soldotna Public Library. Bjorkman was elected in November to represent Alaska Senate District D on the Kenai Peninsula. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Bjorkman joins Senate majority caucus

He is one of 17 members of the bipartisan group

Senator-elect Jesse Bjorkman was named a member of the 33rd Alaska Legislature’s Senate majority coalition on Friday, which he says will allow him to participate more actively in the legislative process next session.

The 17-member group, which includes eight Republicans and nine Democrats, will be headed by incoming Sen. President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who represents the southern Kenai Peninsula from Kasilof to Kodiak. As Senate president, Stevens will replace former Sen. Peter Micciche, who did not run for reelection this year.

Also on Friday, a Senate minority group was formed that includes Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; and Sen. Robb Myers, R-North Pole. That group in a press release said it will stand with Alaska voters who expressed “their desire for the Senate to take a right-of-center pathway.”

“We want Alaskans to know that our Minority organization may be small, but we will be mighty,” Hughes is quoted as saying in the release, adding that the minority group will work to find consensus with the bipartisan coalition.

Bjorkman, who emerged triumphant in his bid for the State Senate seat that includes Kenai and Soldotna, said Monday he was asked to be a part of the 17-member Senate majority caucus shortly after the Nov. 8 election. Bjorkman said he originally wanted to caucus with a group that included all of the Senate Republicans, but that existing feuds between incumbent groups drew a line in the sand.

“It was made clear to me that … those Republicans had no interest at all in caucusing with Sens. Hughes and Shower,” Bjorkman said. “ … I decided that it would be much better for my constituents and the people of the Kenai Peninsula if I joined the majority and to have influence on the legislative process through that group … instead of outside in a dissident minority of four people.”

Bjorkman said the group will hash out in January their specific goals and priorities for the upcoming session, but that members seem to be generally interested in prioritizing services that the State of Alaska is constitutionally mandated to provide, like public safety and schools — issues he ran on during the general election.

The power of the Senate majority caucus is such that the group is able to assign committee chairs and members, which the group’s press release said will occur in the coming weeks; Bjorkman said Monday that he is slated to chair the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

Though the Senate majority caucus is bipartisan, with more Democratic lawmakers, Bjorkman said the participation of most of the Senate’s Republicans in the group will ensure conservative perspectives are heard.

“Having the vast majority of Republicans in the majority coalition gives (conservatives) a voice within that group,” Bjorkman said.

Other members of the Senate majority coalition include Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage; Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks; Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; and David Wilson, R-Wasilla.

Those members are in addition to Sens.-elect Matt Claman, D-Anchorage; Forrest Dunbar, D-Anchorage; Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; James Kaufman, R-Anchorage; Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; and Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage.

More information about the Alaska Legislature can be found at akleg.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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