Walker stands by Alaska Senate pick amid calls to reconsider

February 14, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2018 file photo, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau. Walker stood by his nominee to fill a vacant Alaska Senate seat Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, amid calls from Senate Republicans for him to reconsider his position, setting up a confirmation vote. Walker appointed Randall Kowalke to finish the term of former Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire via AP, File)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker stood by his nominee to fill a vacant Alaska Senate seat Tuesday amid calls from Senate Republicans for him to reconsider his position, setting up a confirmation vote.

Walker on Friday appointed Randall Kowalke to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla. Dunleavy resigned last month to run for governor.

Kowalke, a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, was among 11 applicants for the seat but he was not on the list of three finalists Republicans in that district sent to Walker for consideration.

When there is a legislative vacancy, state law requires the person appointed be from the same party as the person who left. Traditionally, the parties send the governor a list of finalists. But nothing in state law obligates a governor to any such list.

The law does say that an appointment is subject to confirmation by members in the same chamber and of the same political party as the person who previously held the seat. In this case, that’s Senate Republicans.

In a letter to Walker Tuesday, Senate President Pete Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche said that if Walker rejects the finalists, the district should have a chance to give him a new list.

They also noted he could still go with one of the initial finalists: first-term state Rep. George Rauscher, Tom Braund and Todd Smoldon.

Daniel McDonald, press secretary for the Republican-led Senate majority, said the letter signed by Kelly and Micciche was sent on behalf of Senate Republicans.

But Walker responded by standing firm on his pick.

“While I appreciate your concern for the Republican party’s selection process, I am a non-partisan Governor and my decisions are not based on the wishes or demands of any one party,” Walker, an independent, wrote in his letter to Kelly and Micciche.

He said his appointment of Kowalke “was based solely on my sincere desire to make the best decisions for all Alaskans.”

Walker said Kowalke received more support from local officials and residents in the district than the other applicants combined. He said members of the Republican-led Senate majority also encouraged him to appoint Kowalke, though he did not name names.

He did not commit to returning to district Republicans for more names if Kowalke is rejected.

McDonald said Senate Republicans planned to hold a confirmation vote Wednesday.

The letter from Kelly and Micciche said Senate Republicans appreciated Kowalke’s willingness to apply for the seat and that their position had nothing to do with Kowalke.

“Our reluctance is due to our preference for adherence to the traditional process involving local participation,” the letter states.

The Senate seat will be up for election later this year. Kowalke has already filed as a candidate.

Kowalke said he would generally agree with Senate Republicans about process. But he said there were issues with the nominating process.

Kowalke has said there is a history of “bad blood” between him and one of the district GOP leaders, whom he beat for the assembly seat and once sued.

The thought “that there was any chance that I would receive any kind of a fair hearing in this district was a joke,” Kowalke said.

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