Palin offers 3 names for Senate seat

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sarah Palin surprised lawmakers Tuesday by forwarding the names of three appointees to the single open state Senate seat. Two of them, Tim Grussendorf and Joe Nelson, have already been rejected by the Senate Democrats.

Palin said the third, Alan Wilson, is a "successful small businessman and active in the community." He is a former president of the Alaska State Home Building Association and is currently president of Alaska Renovators, a Juneau remodeling company. Wilson only became a Democrat on March 4. He was previously registered nonpartisan, and Juneau Democratic Party officials are opposing him, as they did Nelson and Grussendorf.

Palin must appoint a Democrat from Juneau to the seat, which opened when longtime Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton resigned for an Obama administration job. Her pick requires approval of a majority of the nine state Senate Democrats.

Palin said the Senate Democrats can now choose from among the three. "The bottom line is the governor wants to give them a choice and she hopes they select one of the three names they put forth," said Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

The head of the Juneau Democratic Party said she thinks all three will be rejected.

"It's to the point of ridiculousness. I think this is serious business and (Palin) is making a mockery out of it," said Juneau Democratic Party chairwoman Kim Metcalfe. "The two have been turned down already and the other, Alan Wilson, is a Juneau contractor who is a complete unknown to the Juneau Democrats, and he has recently changed his party registration."

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski protested that state law says a governor "shall appoint a qualified person" to an open seat -- not three people. He also objected to all three of the names she put forward. "From my perspective, I'm not going to support any of those names," Wielechowski said.

Wielechowski said he wants an appointee who is supported by the Juneau Democrats. Palin's decision comes as a rejection of what Juneau Democrats had billed as a compromise candidate, former Juneau mayor Dennis Egan. Several Senate Democrats, the current Juneau mayor, and Valdez Republican Rep. John Harris were also among those pushing for Palin to pick Egan.

But it's the governor's choice and Nelson, Grussendorf and Wilson were her top three after she took applications and conducted interviews, Leighow said. She said the governor's new attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross, who is up for a confirmation vote of the Legislature on Thursday, has signed off on it being legal to submit the three names. State law says that, if an appointee is rejected, a governor "shall appoint another qualified person."

Palin's letter offering up the names said she's disappointed that Senate Democrats have now chosen to reject two qualified people in closed door meetings.

"Each of these individuals are committed to responsible development of our resources, job creation and growth of private sector opportunities," Palin wrote.

Wilson did not immediately return messages left on his home and cell phones after Palin made the pick Tuesday night.

He is involved with the Affordable Housing Commission and is co-chair of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. He's legislative affairs chair for the Alaska State Home Building Association and said in a letter to Palin that he lobbied successfully in 2005-2006 for a contractors licensing enforcement bill.