FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, speaks to reporters at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Edgmon, the incoming speaker of the Alaska House, known as a level-headed moderate willing to work across party lines, faces major tests in leading a new majority coalition and trying to secure agreement on a plan to address the state's multibillion-dollar deficit. Edgmon acknowledges moments of trepidation about his new role. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, speaks to reporters at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Edgmon, the incoming speaker of the Alaska House, known as a level-headed moderate willing to work across party lines, faces major tests in leading a new majority coalition and trying to secure agreement on a plan to address the state's multibillion-dollar deficit. Edgmon acknowledges moments of trepidation about his new role. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

Lawmaker who has long shunned spotlight is becoming speaker

JUNEAU — The incoming speaker of the Alaska House, known as a level-headed moderate willing to work across party lines, faces major tests in leading a new majority coalition and trying to secure agreement on a plan to address the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon acknowledges moments of trepidation about his new role.

“But I’m also somebody who rises to the challenge,” the Democrat said.

Edgmon’s ascendance to House speaker comes 10 years into a political career that started with Edgmon winning a primary contest with a coin toss against his former boss and has seen Edgmon become a strong advocate for rural Alaska issues.

When he takes over as speaker in January, Edgmon will be thrust into a spotlight he has long shied away from. He will lead a House coalition comprised largely of Democrats who through an organizational shake-up following the November elections are regaining power after years in the minority.

The coalition, which also includes independents and three Republicans on the outs with their party leaders for joining, formed around wanting to fix the state’s fiscal problem after this year’s legislative sessions were snarled by gridlock.

Edgmon and Democratic Rep. Neal Foster of Nome, who is also part of the new coalition, were part of the Republican-led majority for years. Rural lawmakers commonly are part of the majority caucus in Alaska, regardless of who’s in charge.

In weighing the pieces of a fiscal plan pushed by Gov. Bill Walker this year, it wasn’t just Republicans who struggled on a path forward, said Rep. Mike Chenault, who has served as speaker since 2009 and will be a leader in the new Republican minority caucus.

“As I told people, you couldn’t get 21 votes for any of those measures,” Chenault said.

Twenty-one votes are needed to pass bills in the 40-member House, and some procedural issues require more. Edgmon’s coalition will have 22 members.

There will be issues he won’t be able to take up because of his slim majority, Chenault said. Edgmon’s ability to be fair and even-keeled will be important as speaker, Chenault said.

Edgmon, who admired Chenault’s approach and steadiness as speaker, said his coalition is small but strong.

Republicans still control the Senate, which wants further budget cuts and is willing to work with Edgmon “whenever possible,” incoming Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said.

Edgmon, 55, grew up in the southwest Alaska fishing community of Dillingham, where he still lives. His political worldview was shaped while working as a legislative staffer years ago, when he saw rural lawmakers, many of whom were Democrats, focused less on party labels and more on getting things done, he said.

In 2006, as the debate over the proposed Pebble Mine burbled in his district, Edgmon, who opposes the project, decided to challenge Rep. Carl Moses, for whom Edgmon was once an aide. Edgmon said Moses, who has since died, was “neutral at best” on Pebble.

Their primary ended in a tie that was settled with a coin toss that Edgmon won. He won election later that year and has served in the House since.

The major challenge currently facing lawmakers is how to address what the Legislative Finance Division has called “the gravest fiscal crisis in state history.” Alaska, which has long relied on oil revenue to fund state government, faces a multibillion-dollar deficit amid chronically low oil prices.

Edgmon sees the next two years as a chance to make choices that will keep Alaska in good stead well into the future. Part of the discussion must include new revenue, he said.

He doesn’t want to see a focus on cuts that will disproportionately impact rural Alaska and wants to maintain a “healthy” Alaska Permanent Fund dividend for residents, though at what level is unclear.

Foster said Edgmon is respectful of what you have to say, whether he agrees or not. If you disagree, you’re still friends, Foster said — Edgmon doesn’t take things personally.

Edgmon has seen music as a way to bridge divides and build relationships after-hours. He plays “anything with strings,” including the mandolin and banjo.

Though generally reserved in public, Edgmon said he can be quite chatty and has a sense of humor. He also is a Dallas Cowboys fan, a love he shares with leaders of the incoming GOP minority.

“Your currency down in Juneau is your ability to build good relationships and to have people trust you,” he said. “That goes above and beyond political brands or political parties.”

More in News

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
503 new cases; borough positivity rate hits 14.65%

Affected peninsula communities include Kenai, Other North, Soldotna and Seward

In this March 18, 2020 file photo, Thomas Waerner, of Norway, celebrates his win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. The world’s most famous sled dog race will go forward in 2021 officials are preparing for every potential contingency now for what the coronavirus and the world might look like in March when the Iditarod starts. It’s not the mushers that worry Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach; they’re used to social distancing along the 1,000 mile trail. The headaches start with what to do with hundreds of volunteers needed to run the race, some scattered in villages along the trail between Anchorage and Nome, to protect them and the village populations. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
Virus restrictions lead Norwegian champ to drop Iditarod

“I cannot find a way to get the dogs to Alaska.”

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wendesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
First COVID vaccines could arrive in Alaska next month

Pfizer announced their COVID-19 vaccine candidate earlier this month, with Moderna not long after

File
DHSS encourages COVID-positive Alaskans to do their own contact tracing

In a Monday release, DHSS said that surging COVID-19 cases are creating a data backlog

Public input sought on proposed Skilak-area boat launch changes

The public scoping period will last from Dec. 8, 2020 to Jan. 8, 2021

Risk levels
Schools status: Nov. 23

34 KPBSD schools continue to operate 100% remotely through at least Nov. 25

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wendesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
State COVID officials brief Soldotna City Council in work session

The council was joined by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and State Testing Coordinator Dr. Coleman Cutchins

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports more than 4,000 cases this week, 357 on peninsula

The state reported 462 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Seward junior Lydia Jacoby swims in August 2019 at the Speedo Junior National Championships in Stanford, California. (Photo by Jack Spitser)
Improving through challenging times

Seward junior swimmer Jacoby wins national title at U.S. Open

Most Read