Home Statewide Politics Why Lindsey Holmes Defected, and why the GOP Cannot Let Her Be...

Why Lindsey Holmes Defected, and why the GOP Cannot Let Her Be the Last

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This Saturday, Anchorage Democratic Representative Lindsey Holmes surprised many when she announced that she was joining the Republican party, which controls the lower chamber in the state legislature (as well as the state senate and executive branch, for that matter). Holmes has held her seat as a Democrat since 2006, and won reelection this past November – over Republican challenger Anand Dubey – by a healthy ten points. Her district (District 19 in West Anchorage) is considered a Democratic stronghold. The move has left many – surely none other than those West Anchorage Democratic supporters – more than a bit puzzled.
KTUU reports that, as compensation for the political about face, Holmes will be awarded a seat on the House Finance Committee. The switch also brings the membership of the Republican House Majority to a total of 30 members, as three Democrats have previously agreed to caucus with the majority.
Thirty majority members in a body of only 40 seats total. That’s obviously big. But think bigger.
There is very likely at least one more chip to fall. And if said chip falls, the game in Juneau changes drastically.
Just days after the election, committee assignments were announced. As expected, given the GOP’s electoral gains, they were heavily weighted with Republican membership. But not entirely.
House rules stipulate that on “each standing committee the minority is entitled to the number of seats that is proportional to the number of minority members compared to the total house membership or to one seat, whichever is greater.” Thus, the current political makeup of the House has ten minority members, and so in a committee of the usual 5-7 members, the minority party would be allocated at least one seat on each committee.
This is extremely important, because committees are where the sausage is made; where bills are tweaked and fine-tuned before going to the floor for the final votes. Committees are where legislation comes-of-age.
But also in the House rules is an important detail: “For purposes of this subsection ‘minority’ means a group of members who have organized and elected a minority leader and who constitute at least 25 percent of the total house membership.”
Let’s do the math: 25 percent of 40 is ten. Representative Holmes’ defection has whittled down the Democratic Party’s membership in the House to exactly that number. If there is a single additional defection, the Democratic Party’s status becomes something a lot worse than their already-bad-news current situation of being a noted objection. One more defection means their objection no longer gets noted. The Democrats will cease to be recognized.
Lindsey Holmes’ move not only is of questionable character given its chronology – that fact that she switched parties after securing reelection; soliciting votes, volunteers, and donations under what very much looks to be false pretenses now – but also could ultimately be a defining event in Alaska party politics. She has set the table for one of the two major political parties to lose its status in the state house.
This was most assuredly was not a factor pondered by supporters at the ballot box when votes were cast for Holmes.
We’re now left with the question of whether or not the party can hold the line, and how much the Republicans are willing to compromise in pursuit of the symbolic victory. The next chip to fall could be a deciding factor in the fate of the Alaskan Democratic Party.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Juneau this week.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow. And I had quite a bit of respect for her prior to this. Wow. Maybe next time she should ask those who vote for her, since they voted for her as a democrat… Maybe that is what we want her to be!

  2. While this is certainly interesting, and the political intrigue is high, the house majority has been so lock-step for so long, that even if another minority member falls and the minority loses committee memberships, there will be very little practical impact for the State. (Though there may be impacts on the personal political fortunes of a few individual legislators).
    The real damage this year was done when the Senate districts were gerrymandered and the Republican’s re-gained control there. That control shift will have much more significant impacts for the State than the committee memberships of the minority in the House.

    • I agree on the long-term ramifications, Denny. The gerrymandering has already been called into question by the Alaska Supreme Court, though time will tell as to how that actually affects our district lines. In the mean time, Holme’s defection could have very real impact on this particular legislative session, in terms of how it affects committee memberships. I’m very interested to see what happens by the beginning of the session on Tuesday.