Bethel has a new lawmaker.
In an extended ceremony Friday morning, Democratic Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky was sworn in to replace Zach Fansler, who resigned in mid-February after a Juneau woman alleged he slapped her with enough force that he broke her eardrum.
“I think we’re on the 53rd day of session, but this is my Day 1, and there’s a lot to catch up on,” she said after signing her oath of office.
Zulkosky supporters filled the galleries of the Alaska House of Representatives as she raised her hand and repeated the ceremonial oath of office. Among them was Zulkosky’s mother, several state commissioners, and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Zulkosky served as a Begich staffer before he lost his 2014 bid for re-election to current U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
Asked whether he intends to run for governor this year, Begich replied, “No. But I’m so happy that Tiffany is the representative from the Bethel area.”
With Zulkosky’s arrival, the Alaska Legislature has 19 women among its 60 members. That figure is the most since the Alaska Legislature convened in 1913. (Proportionally, the number of women in the Legislature remains far below the figure statewide; 48 percent of Alaska’s residents are women.)
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham said he also believes Zulkosky’s admission to the Legislature means the body has the most Alaska Native representatives in its history. That claim could not be verified, because racial identity is not tracked in Legislative statistics.
Edgmon said having Native membership in the Legislature matters because it shows “Alaska Natives play an important role, not only in the history of the great state of Alaska, but also going forward.”
With Zulkosky a member, the Alaska House of Representatives now has its constitutionally allotted 40 members. That’s only on paper, however. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, and Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, are recovering from medical emergencies and were absent from the Capitol on Friday. Both are expected to return to work next week.
Several Republicans were absent from the House on Friday because the state Republican convention is being held in Anchorage. Republicans and Democrats were also absent for personal reasons.
Combined, only 30 members of the House were present for Friday’s floor session.
They nevertheless managed to pass one bill, House Bill 176, from Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks. HB 176 now goes to the Senate for consideration, and if approved there, it would allow the state to bill the federal government for a portion of ambulance expenses incurred by Medicaid patients. Twenty-seven percent of Alaskans are on some form of Medicaid. HB 176 passed 30-0.
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