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Republican State Senator-elect Bjorkman joins bipartisan coalition

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Riley Board
/
KDLL
Nikiski Republican State Senator-elect Jesse Bjorkman on the campaign trail.

The organizational makeup of the Alaska State House has yet to be determined.

Recently elected Nikiski Republican Jesse Bjorkman has joined a bipartisan coalition of senators that will hold the majority in the Alaska State Senate this session.

The coalition, announced at a press conference Friday, includes all nine elected Democratic senators and eight Republicans. Three right-wing Republicans will make up the senate minority.

Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens, who also represents the southern Kenai Peninsula, will serve as Senate president. Bjorkman, a Republican, says he was approached by Stevens the day after the election about joining the coalition.

“By choosing to be in the majority, I can maximize benefit for Kenai Peninsula residents in the state legislature,” he said.

Bjorkman says joining the majority will give him an opportunity to make good on his promises to Kenai Peninsula voters. He says the focus of the group will be accomplishing the constitutionally-mandated functions of the senate, like funding public safety, roads and public schools, all of which were central priorities of his campaign.

But Bjorkman says the choice to join the coalition wasn’t easy.

He says he spent lots of time on the phone with other state senators, talking about what this senate majority might look like, before making a decision.

Ultimately, Bjorkman decided being a member of a dissident minority would reduce his impact in the senate.

“It would have been very easy to sit on the sidelines in the minority and throw rocks and say no to things,” he said. “But ultimately, I don’t think that’s the work that people on the Kenai Peninsula elected me to do.”

He says incumbent Republicans had been discussing the possibility of a bipartisan majority for some time before the election. According to Bjorkman, that coalition formed as a result of policy disagreements between long-serving Republicans and two conservative senators — Mike Shower of Wasilla and Shelley Hughes of Palmer.

“It became very clear that you had a very large group of Republicans that were not willing to work with either of those two people,” he said.

Shower and Hughes are among senators who have voted against Republican-proposed state budgets in the past. Shower, Hughes and incumbent Sen. Robert Myers of North Pole make up the new minority.

Members of the majority also get to lead senate committees. Bjorkman has been appointed a chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. Although the position has yet to be confirmed, Bjorkman says he’s looking forward to the impact he’ll have in that role.

He says as chair, he plans to facilitate a quote “business-friendly mindset” for both small business and large industries, and to encourage workforce development for young Alaskans through trade and apprenticeship programs.

The organizational makeup of the Alaska State House has yet to be determined.

This article has been updated to clarify that the minority senators were not the only senators to vote against Republican budgets in the past.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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  • Nikiski Republican Jesse Bjorkman and Soldotna Republican Justin Ruffridge will represent the central Kenai Peninsula in Juneau next session, while on the southern peninsula, incumbent Republican Rep. Sarah Vance and Sen. Gary Stevens will keep their seats.