From Caucus of the Whole to No Caucus at All

Donny Olson Joins Majority, Leaving Minority Without a Caucus


Fine Grind – Just the News

A day after offering to share power and responsibility by forming a “caucus of the whole” at least one minority caucus is likely having second thoughts today. The Senate Minority Caucus became a non caucus this morning when Sen. Donny Olson announced he would join the Senate majority.

The move leaves four Democrats essentially without a caucus. Sens Berta Gardner, Bill Wielechowski and Johnny Ellis, all of Anchorage and Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau. According to the Legislature’s uniform rules it requires one-fourth the total membership of the body to form an official caucus – in the Senate that means five members. Technically that means the majority could strip the four Democrats of committee assignments, staff and office space. Olson was the minority’s Finance Committee member, and he will remain on that committee, leaving no minority members on the most significant committee in each body.

It is unlikely the majority would remove the four Democrats from committees, other than Finance, for practical reasons if nothing else. Doing so would mean the majority would have to add members to those committees, stretching their own members thin. A similar situation existed under the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, when four Republican senators were left out in the cold. At that time the four were allowed to sit on committees other than Finance and each had one staffer. The four Democrats each have two staffers now, a year round staffer and a session staffer. Gardner, who was the minority leader, has three staffers, including a “caucus staffer” who is also her chief of staff. During this time of belt tightening it’s possible the Democrats will be asked to reduce staff, but neither side has discussed details.

Last year when Rep. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) voted against the House Majority’s budget she was removed from the caucus, and she did lose staff. Suffering the consequences that come with the fates of legislative bosses is one of the risks that come with the economic rewards of legislative staff jobs. If staffing changes are not made during the session they are almost inevitable during the interim.

This is a developing story with few details yet available. Grinder News will continue to track developments.