Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke has been appointed by Governor Bill Walker to fill a vacant Senate seat, but Mat-Su Republican legislators are opposing the appointment. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:
After Mike Dunleavy resigned his seat in the Alaska State Senate in January, local branches of the Alaska Republican Party began the process of coming up with a shortlist of potential replacements.
The list agreed on included three names, current Representative George Rauscher, teacher Todd Smoldon, and Thomas Braund, who is retired after a career in public safety.
The list was forwarded to Governor Bill Walker, who effectively chose “none of the above” by appointing Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke. Kowalke says he welcomed the news that he was Walker’s choice.
“I was pleased, because I think the governor recognized the work I’ve been doing for the borough, and that’s how we interfaced. Additionally, when the governor is at his recreational property he’s actually a constituent of mine, and I mentioned that to him a couple of times—in jest, of course.”
It’s now up to Senate Republicans to decide whether Randall Kowalke is confirmed. At least some of his would-be colleagues plan to oppose Kowalke’s appointment. Senator Shelley Hughes says she plans to vote against confirmation, but that it’s not about whom the governor chose, but rather how he chose.
“It isn’t disappointment in the choice. It’s disappointment in the governor not following the process and disregarding the folks of the district.”
Senator Hughes says she also opposed Walker’s appointment of John Lincoln to House District 40, a choice that also came from outside of the list provided by, in this case, the Democratic Party. While the governor has the authority to go outside of party suggestions, Hughes says it circumvents the will of local constituents.
“Do we respect the people in this process? Do we think they know best who represents their interest and their positions, or does the governor think he knows best who represent their interests and positions? I believe the people do.”
Randall Kowalke says that, in most cases, he would agree with the reasons that Hughes and other Mat-Su Valley legislators are opposing his confirmation, but adds that he doesn’t think he had a fair chance to be on the shortlist sent to Governor Walker. He says the process used by the Republican Party at the combined House District 9 and 10 meeting was broken due to issues with local party officials.
“You had the chairman and the vice-chairman of the District 10 party, [who] for various reasons, wouldn’t have appointed me to mow their lawn, let alone serve in the Senate.”
District 10 Republican Party Chair Doyle Holmes was Kowalke’s opponent in the tight race that Kowalke ultimately won to be seated on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly. Kowalke says Vice-Chair Jim Huston was involved with litigation against the borough at the time the list was made.
Austin Baird, spokesman for Governor Walker, says the governor believes Kowalke’s business background and record as a member of the Mat-Su Borough Assembly make him “uniquely qualified” to fill the vacancy. Baird also says Walker received more positive feed for Kowalke from Republicans in Junueau as well as mayors than for the three candidates presented by the Republican Party.
As of Monday afternoon, there is no indication of exactly when Senate Republicans will discuss whether Randall Kowalke takes the vacant seat, but Senate President Pete Kelly says it will likely be early this week. Kowalke says, if he is approved, that he looks forward to working with the majority caucus and all Republicans in the Senate.