‘OUTRAGEOUS,’ SAYS GOP CHAIRMAN
Randall Kowalke, who won his assembly seat in the Mat-Su with the help of 73 percent of Talkeetna voters, is Gov. Bill Walker’s choice for Senate Seat E, the seat that represents some of the most conservative communities in the state.
District E stretches from Wasilla to Glennallen, Delta Junction, Tok, and Valdez and even Whittier — and liberal stronghold Talkeetna, where they elect cats as their mayor.
District E has been unrepresented since mid-January, when Mike Dunleavy left the Senate to focus on his run for governor.
Walker chose not to draw from the list of three names forwarded by Republicans in the district, but instead found a kindred spirit in Kowalke, who has been a supporter of Walker’s.
Kowalke is a retired businessman who worked in wood products, oil and telecommunications and who serves on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly, a seat he won by 33 votes in 2015 against his political adversary, Doyle Holmes.
Kowalke was the first to file for Dunleavy’s seat, doing so on Dec. 31, 2017 after Dunleavy rejoined the race for governor. The Kowalke pick could allow a coup to take place in the Senate, and could put Democrats in charge with the help of a couple of willing Republicans. Several Democrats have alluded that this is part of their plan to “flip the Senate.”
Carol Carman, who is the Republican chair for House District 9, expressed her disappointment, as she and other party officers spent over 500 hours vetting 11 applicants, Kowalke among them. He did not make the final but was near the bottom of the list.
Kowalke, who is a registered Republican, was a Walker supporter in 2014, and is an ally of Borough Mayor Vern Halter, who ran with the express support of Democrats and unions. He is also close with Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle, an unaffiliated voter who co-hosted a fundraiser for Walker this past fall.
But will the Senate accept Kowalke? The Senate Republicans will decide, and they have gaveled out until Monday morning. But it is not likely they will concur with the pick. The governor probably has been told the nomination is dead on arrival.
Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party who facilitated the process of forwarding names to the governor, said the pick is unacceptable.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that the governor will go against the wishes of the district. The Senate should absolutely vote him down,” he said, as he drove from Anchorage to his home in Kenai today.
Reached in Wasilla, gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy was also unimpressed with the pick for his former seat, because he felt it disrespects a well-organized vetting process by constituents.
“The critical question is this: Who owns the seat? The voters of District E or Gov. Walker? The governor has a chosen to substitute his own judgment for the views of local leaders,” Dunleavy said.
Walker should have asked District leaders to send him three more names before going off the list provided to him, Dunleavy added.
The district had sent him the names of Rep. George Rauscher, Todd Smoldon, and Tom Braund of the 11 who applied.
Senate President Pete Kelly signaled the response from Senate Republicans: â€œWhile we recognize a fine choice by the governor in Mr. Kowalke, we would prefer the governor work through the traditional process involving local participation from the districts. The Senate Republicans will meet next week to discuss the governor’s appointment.
KOWALKE, THE ASSEMBLYMAN BUILT BY TALKEETNA
In 2015, the Mat-Su Borough election came down to votes from Talkeetna, where the ballot counting machine had stopped working. The ballots were collected and placed in a sealed bag, and then counted by another machine, but during that process, an election clerk from Houston, Alaska was left alone with the ballots for 90 minutes.
Holmes said that since the election official and the clerk were each alone with the ballots for an extended period of time, tampering may have occurred. In liberal Talkeetna, 73 percent of the votes went to Kowalke, while only 27 percent went to Holmes. In the rest of the district, Holmes had held the lead. But his claim was denied and with 33 votes (less than 2 percent of the vote), Kowalke was sworn in. Liberal Talkeetna had pulled him over the line.Â Now, in a twist of fate, he is poised to become senator for the entire district.
THE HIGHWAYS DISTRICT
Some call District E the Bible Belt of Alaska, while others describe it as the “Highways District” because it encompasses the Glenn, Richardson, and the Parks Highways.
But it’s also a place where Southcentral Alaska meets Southeast Alaska, as it reaches both Valdez and Whittier, and ferries are important, especially in Whittier, while ocean fishing is important in both communities.
Valdez, clearly Bill Walker country, has massive property tax revenues from oil export facilities there, and residents in Valdez have a different world view than many communities in Alaska, due to a constant flow of funds. And uber-liberal Talkeetna is also in the district, one of the biggest Bernie Sanders voting blocks in the state.
In essence, District E is a cultural melting pot of non-urban Alaska.