A Soldotna Republican co-chairs the Alaska House’s caucus of first-time lawmakers

Justin Ruffridge
Soldotna Republican Rep. Justin Ruffridge on the campaign trail last fall. Ruffridge said on the House floor that he and the other legislators in the Freshman Caucus are seeing a lot of the same statewide issues come up from constituents. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

State Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, is leading an informal caucus of first-time representatives in the Alaska House.

At a floor session last week, Ruffridge said the 17 freshmen in the House span geographies and ideologies, but are united across some issues — and in their newness to the Alaska Legislature.

“Our purpose will be to discuss ideas, debate policy, and share those issues most important to the constituents which encompass districts from all over the state,” Ruffridge said. “Most importantly, we will continue to build on great working relationships.”

Members of the Legislature organize themselves into caucuses — or groups with similar goals or interests.

In the state House, the formal majority and minority caucuses get extra staff and set committee assignments. Ruffridge is part of the Republican-led majority caucus.

But there are other, informal caucuses, too, which come together to discuss issues — like the four-member Bush Caucus, representing rural Alaska. That includes Independent and Democrat representatives from Bethel, Dillingham, Nome and Utquiagvik. In the past, informal caucuses have sometimes been predecessors for formal, governing caucuses.

The freshman representatives in the state House this year are the largest class in two decades, according to the Anchorage Daily News, with 17 new representatives — seven Republicans, eight Democrats and two independents. That’s nearly half of the 40-member house.

Ruffridge said the members met during a multi-day training in December to learn how state government functions.

“We also were able to learn and understand more about one another,” Ruffridge said. “We began to learn what was important to each other. We talked about the number of issues that were important to the constituents in our respective districts.”

He said they want to keep understanding the complex issues facing Alaska. And he said there will be times when they vote together — and times when they don’t.

“Let me be clear: We will not agree on every issue,” Ruffidge said. “But through meaningful dialogue, we will strive to better understand the reasons behind decision-making processes.”

Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat, is the caucus’s other chair.

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