Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, resigned from her role as Minority Leader on the opening day of the legislative session.
Kerttula will be a visiting fellow at Stanford University, her alma mater, where she will spend a year at the Center for Ocean Solutions. Her resignation is effective Jan. 24, and she starts the job in Palo Alto, Calif., on Feb. 3.
"I would have liked to have served the rest of my term," Kerttula said. "The opportunity to get to go back to my school, back to Stanford, to study ocean issues, is really a passion for me."
In a statement announcing the decision, the House Minority said Kerttula will "design and participate in strategy meetings and communications to strengthen decision makers’ understanding of the policy implications of changing oceans and climate.”
Kerttula was first elected to the House in 1998, and she was chosen by her colleagues as the top Democrat in 2006, which she held for seven years.
Jay Kerttula, her father, was the longest-serving state legislator in Alaska history. And Beth Kerttula grew up between Juneau and Palmer before attending college at Stanford and law school at the University of Santa Clara.
She was a lawyer before running for office.
"She has a lot of institutional knowledge, she has a lot of history," said Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat. "We're going to miss that, but we'll pick up the pieces."
Tuck was chosen as the new House Minority leader, and Rep. Max Gruenberg of Anchorage will take over Tuck's former role as Minority Whip.
Gov. Sean Parnell is required to appoint a registered Democrat from Kerttula's district to finish out her term within 30 days.
Mike Wenstrup, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, said local leadership will meet Tuesday evening to formalize a timetable and to exact details of the process to select a replacement.
"There will be no shortage of people qualified and interested in representing Juneau," Wenstrup said. "With session, it's not practical to expand the process to include all registered Democrats in the area.
"They'll work together as leadership to decide who's best qualified."
The last time Democrats needed to replace a lawmaker was in 2009, when Kerttula herself was recommended as a replacement for resigning Sen. Kim Elton.
Then-Gov. Sarah Palin rejected Kerttula and eventually settled on Sen. Dennis Egan, who still holds the seat.
The absence of Kerttula drops the House Democratic Caucus to nine active members until a replacement is appointed.
That opens the option for Republicans to remove Democrats from committees, but House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, told KTUU that possibility will not be explored.
Channel 2’s Austin Baird and Adam Pinsker contributed to this story.