ANCHORAGE - Since 2007, the state Senate has operated under a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.
Now that coalition is under attack from prominent Republicans, who hope to break it up through this year's primary and general elections.
But the group Backbone is stepping into the fray, arguing that Alaska’s best interests are served by bipartisanship.
The loosely organized group Backbone, consisting of longtime Alaskans with roots in both political parties, was formed in 1999 by the late former Governor Wally Hickel to retain competition among oil producers on the North Slope.
Hickel's close friend and assistant, Malcolm Roberts, is now leading an effort to put Backbone into the political debate over the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, with the hope of preserving that coalition.
"We believe that partisan politics should come second to Alaska first, as sort of a theme and a motto for our public servants."
The 10 Democrats and six Republicans in the Senate coalition are now a target of Republican Governor Sean Parnell and Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.
The biggest issue is oil taxes, with the Senate refusing to pass the governor's bill for a major reduction in oil taxes.
But Ruedrich said it's a do-nothing body in general.
"They have blocked any form of legislation whether it is pro-development, pro-business, pro-family. It has been a land for bills to die. We need to have something that responds to the wishes of Alaskans."
Backbone does not have an official position on oil taxes, but Roberts said he could go along with a reduction in the progressive rate at high prices.
"But there needs to be some quid pro quo from the industry. There needs to be some commitment that they will do something. They will put more of their efforts into finding more resources."
Ruedrich points to a major increase in Republican Party voter registration since 10 years ago, when Republicans controlled the Senate 15-to-5.
"On that basis, we should be headed toward 15 and 5 or better as the decade proceeds, and we should make a big step in that direction this time."
The coalition has backbone. Voters will decide if it has legs.
Ruedrich said the Republican Party will maintain its traditional neutrality during primary contests between Republicans, even in cases where the incumbent is part of the coalition.
But come the fall, he said the new election map does not bode well for Democrats, no matter who their opponents are.