Members of the House of Representatives leave the chamber Wednesday, Feb. 3,. after failing to elect a temporary speaker, part of a deadlock that was broken Thursday, when Rep. Josiah Patkotak was elected speaker pro tem. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Members of the House of Representatives leave the chamber Wednesday, Feb. 3,. after failing to elect a temporary speaker, part of a deadlock that was broken Thursday, when Rep. Josiah Patkotak was elected speaker pro tem. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

State House picks temporary speaker

It’s the first break in three-week deadlock for House

The Alaska House of Representatives elected freshman Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiagvik, as speaker pro tem, a temporary position that will oversee the body until further organization. Patkotak was elected unanimously Thursday morning, the first break in the deadlock in the House that has held since the first day of the session.

After electing Patkotak, lawmakers recessed briefly before adjourning until Friday morning.

“I am humbled and honored to serve in this capacity during my first year in office, and I remain committed to the Bush Caucus as we work to achieve a permanent organization in the House. I thank God for this opportunity,” Patkotak said in a statement.

Speaker pro tem is largely a ceremonial position, but the vote is the first time the state House has been able to come to an agreement for three weeks. Patkotak will be able to oversee House floor sessions, meaning Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer no longer has to preside over the body.

[House remains deadlocked. Here’s what that means for future legislation]

Patkotak, who was elected to the seat after Rep John Lincoln, I-Kotzebue, decided not to run for office, is a member of the House coalition of mostly Democrats, independents and one Republican. But Patkotak was nominated by Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, who in a statement said he was honored to put the name forward.

“Over the last three weeks, I’ve gotten to know him better. He’s an honorable man and the right person to help break the stalemate toward electing a House Speaker,” Cronk said.

Rep. Steve Thompson said in a statement all Alaskans should welcome the vote of confidence placed in Patkotak.

Last year’s Speaker, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said in a statement he was pleased with Patkotak’s appointment.

“I am encouraged to see a young leader with the skills, temperament, and commitment to rural Alaska playing a leadership role as we continue to work toward a permanent organization in the House,” Edgmon said.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, who served as speaker pro tem in 2019, and said Thursday he was proud to see another rural legislator stepping up.

But the question of leadership remains.

The House is still evenly divided, and without full organization, bills can’t be introduced and committee assignments can’t be given.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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