AK GOP REAFFIRMS: SEAT BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE
Gov. Bill Walker yesterday demanded the Senate Republicans take a formal vote on his nominee to replace Mike Dunleavy.
Walker got his way and now he’s back to the drawing board.
Senators took their vote this morning in private. They rejected his pick, Randall Kowalke, a Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman and announced it quickly at sunrise.
“Republicans are united. This is not the governor’s Senate seat. It belongs to the people,” said Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock. “We provided him with three names, and the governor never explained why he rejected them and he hasn’t asked us for more names. We stand ready to help if asked.”
This morning’s vote followed efforts yesterday by Senate Republicans that were more conciliatory in nature toward Walker, encouraging him to reconsider his choice and work through the traditional process in support of the people of District E.
Senators appeared to want to not make it a point of strife, but to work cooperatively to solve the problem of the vacant seat, which represents a swath of Alaska that is very conservative.
But the governor shot back with a harsh letter to the Majority, saying he is going to do what is best for the district and Alaska, and that, as a non-partisan governor, he doesn’t have to take the advice of local Republicans.
His nomination of a moderate like Kowalke could have been his effort to break up the Senate Majority, but he characterized it as a “I know best” decision.
“We believe the people of District E should be given an opportunity to fill the seat with a candidate they support through the traditional process, which is designed to respect the will of the voters. The seat does not belong to us in the Senate, or the governor. The seat belongs to the people of District E.” — Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche
WHAT IS WALKER’S NEXT MOVE?
Walker may have lost political ground, but has 10 days to come up with another name. He has at least one potential nominee in his back pocket, and some pundits say his pick of Kowalke was a head fake to get to that person: Eddie Grasser, who is a lobbyist for the Alaska Safari Club International.
In an election year, the nomination of a hunting advocate would help Walker shore up a section of Republican voters who have grown disillusioned with him over hunting and fishing access issues.
Walker backed out of an important access case that involved a historic road across Ahtna Native Corp. land to rich fishing grounds on the Klutina river and lake area. Walker angered fishermen when carved out a deal with the Corporation, but at the last minute the deal collapsed when Ahtna rejected it. The case, which had been in the courts, is now muddling on the back burner for the Department of Law.
Grasser, well-known in Juneau and in the trophy hunting community, was not on the list provided to the governor by District E Republicans, but like Kowalke, was brought in for an interview by Walker.
The original three names forwarded by District E Republicans were District 9 Rep. George Rauscher, Todd Smoldon, and Tom Braund. All three interviewed with the governor, but he also included a dozen other people on his list to replace Mike Dunleavy, who has left the Senate to challenge Walker for governor.
GOING HIS OWN WAY
Walker also didn’t choose from the list provided him by local Democrats in District 40, after Rep. Dean Westlake was forced to resign over “MeToo” harassment claims in December.
But it’s well-known in Democratic circles that Walker worked closely with the Alaska Democratic Party to find an alternative name for Westlake that most would agree with, and John Lincoln, a Democrat from Kotzebue, was easily confirmed after drama ensued for days over the three names originally given to him by the local Democrats in District 40.
Through conversation with Democratic leaders in a district he will easily win this November, Walker found Lincoln to be an acceptable and willing alternative.
But for Senate Seat E, Walker is taking a combative and top-down approach. He knows District E voters will likely pull for Walker’s Republican opponent, which may be why he has shown no interest in talking with the people to find a replacement for Dunleavy.
Dunleavy’s seat isn’t his only concern. Walker also must find a replacement for former Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler, District 38, who resigned in disgrace and was out of office on Feb. 12 after a violent incident with a woman in a hotel room in Juneau in January.
That district has been “unorganized” but recently elected a Democratic Party chairman and is starting the process of forwarding three names to the governor.