AG backs Palin's choice for new lieutenant governor

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor

Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan offered a compromise Friday in the legal dispute over who will be the next lieutenant governor: allow Gov. Sarah Palin's pick, Craig Campbell, to be "acting" lieutenant governor until he can be confirmed.

"It ensures a smooth transition, it ensures no gaps with regard to the succession line to the governor's office, but it's also very respectful and preserves the Legislature's prerogative of future confirmation," said Sullivan, who Palin appointed as state attorney general less than a month ago.

State House Speaker Mike Chenault said he doesn't know if Sullivan's suggestion would work. The Nikiski Republican said the Legislature's lawyers are looking it over, and he wants to make sure it would be airtight so the state doesn't end up in "a big legal fiasco."

"What would happen if something happened to Sean (Parnell) and you have a lieutenant governor that hasn't been confirmed? Then politics start to play into it and then it would get ugly," he said.

The issue came up with Palin's surprise announcement last week that she will resign from office July 26 and hand power over to Parnell, the current lieutenant governor. Palin said Campbell, the state commissioner of military and veteran affairs, would then take over as the lieutenant governor.

The problem is that Palin in February selected someone else, Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt, as next in the line of succession behind Parnell to be lieutenant governor, and the Legislature confirmed him. The Legislature's top lawyer, Tam Cook, said this week that Palin can't put Campbell in the job instead unless he is confirmed by the Legislature.

That's a dilemma, since the Legislature isn't in regular session until January. A special session where the Legislature can confirm Campbell and vote on whether to override Palin's veto of federal energy stimulus funds is likely. But it would be tough to have it before July 26, the day Parnell becomes governor and the state needs somebody to become lieutenant governor.

Attorney General Sullivan on Friday produced a legal opinion that disagrees with the Legislature's lawyer and says Palin does have the right to install Campbell as the state's next lieutenant governor prior to legislative confirmation.

But Sullivan said "to be honest, it's a very close call, the statutes we're interpreting, there's no case law on them." He said a better way is for Campbell to just be the "acting" lieutenant governor, something he found to be allowed under the law, until the Legislature has a chance to convene and vote on his confirmation.

State House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jay Ramras said he likes Sullivan's plan.

"I'm supportive of the attorney general designee and his impression of a safe way to preserve the chain of succession," the Fairbanks Republican said.

Find Sean Cockerham online at or call him at 257-4344.

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