Senate to vote on Dunleavy replacement this week

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) As pressure builds to reject Gov. Bill Walker’s pick to fill an open Senate seat with a Mat-Su Borough assemblyman, Senate President Pete Kelly said Monday morning that a vote on the assemblyman will take place this week.

On Friday, Walker went outside a list of three nominees, including a sitting House member, submitted to him by Mat-Su Republicans. The seat was vacated in January by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, who quit to focus on his run for governor.

Instead of picking one of the three people submitted by Mat-Su Republicans, Walker named borough assemblyman Randall Kowalke, a retired businessman who serves on the board of the Resource Development Council.

By law, Walker was only required to select a qualified person from from the Republican Party, though by tradition the governor picks from among three names submitted by local party leaders.

The remaining 13 Republican senators can vote to confirm or reject the choice.

Over the weekend, the Mat-Su delegation of two remaining state senators and six representatives sent a joint statement to reporters opposing Walker’s pick “because of his unwillingness to select the replacement from one of three highly vetted names.”

It was the second time in just over two weeks that Walker rejected the initial choice from a local district for a vacant legislative seat.

On Jan. 24, Walker named John Lincoln of Kotzebue to the seat vacated by Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, who resigned over sexual misconduct allegations. Lincoln wasn’t on the initial choice list of local Democrats, though Walker had asked the Democrats to reconsider before he named Lincoln.

And now there’s a third vacancy — that of Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, who quit under pressure from House leaders earlier this month after a woman accused him of hitting her. Bethel Democrats have asked for nominations for that seat, which, by law, must be filled by Walker in mid-March.

While Kowalke was one of 11 people who applied for Dunleavy’s job, he was not one of the finalists.

“We’ll give him due consideration,” Kelly told reporters at a news conference Monday morning. “The thing that we’re struggling with is not Randall Kowalke --- all indications are, he’s a good Alaskan.”

Instead, Kelly said, the concern was over Walker going outside the list of three names.

“If we turn him down, that will be pushing back against the governor somewhat,” Kelly said. “We would hope that if that happens — that he’s rejected — the governor will go back and ask for a couple more names rather than just go outside the list.”

Dunleavy, who may face Walker, an independent, in the November election, called Walker’s choice an “affront” to local Republicans. And the two other remaining Mat-Su senators, David Wilson and Shelley Hughes, criticized Walker last week for showing “little regard” for the selection by Mat-Su Republicans.

Tuckerman Babcock, the Republican state party chairman, had predicted that the Senate would reject Kowalke.

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