Parnell appoints Kito to fill Southeast House seat

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday appointed Sam Kito III to the House seat left vacant by the resignation last month of Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula.

Kito was one of three candidates Tongass Democrats presented to Parnell for consideration. The others were Jesse Kiehl and Catherine Reardon.

"I want to work for Juneau and northern Southeast and look forward in hearing from the residents of District 32," said Kito, a contract lobbyist and former transportation and development manager for the City and Borough of Juneau.

Kito's appointment must be confirmed by House Democrats.

Parnell, a Republican, said at a news conference that he hopes the transparency in the process of filling Kerttula's seat will continue on the part of Democrats.

"I would like to see them do the vote on the nominee in public," Parnell said during the news conference introducing Kito. Parnell said his preference for approving his selection of Kito would be a public vote rather than in a caucus room.

Parnell said in reviewing 33 such appointments prior to 1990, the custom was for a public vote on the selection. It is a custom he said he hopes House Democrats restore.

If Kito's appointment is not approved by the majority of House Democrats, the search will start again.

"My short term priority is to make sure the state library and archives are completed," Kito said if his appointment is approved. "My long term is to see that the state develops a balanced and diverse economy."

There are about two months left in the legislative session.

The seat is up for election this year. Before he was appointed, Kitto indicated he would stand for election, but on Friday he wouldn't commit. But he did say he wanted to serve the district as long as possible.

Kerttula stepped down as House minority leader on Jan. 21 and resigned from the Legislature on Jan. 24 for a fellowship at Stanford University. Her departure left nine members in the minority, one shy of the number needed for a formal minority for purposes of committee assignments. House Speaker Mike Chenault last month said he would not shake up the committee structure given the pending appointment. Kito earlier said if appointed, he intended to caucus with the minority Democrats.

Currently, four Democrats from rural Alaska caucus with majority Republicans.

Kito, 49, said he used to be registered as a non-partisan voter but in the mid-2000s switched to the Democratic Party because it was a better fit. He said he's pro-choice, supports increases in minimum wage and is anti-school vouchers. He said he's not sure how he'll vote on the ballot measure to repeal Senate Bill 21, the oil tax cut legislation approved last year.

As a registered Juneau lobbyist, he represents the Alaska Massage Therapy Association, which wants a massage therapy licensing law, and also works as a contract lobbyist for his father, prominent lobbyist Sam Kito Jr., and for another firm, J.M. Walsh Company Inc. Both lobbying firms have numerous clients in a variety of fields: fisheries and the cruise ship industry, Native corporations and school districts, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

If House Democrats approve his appointment, he said he would immediately terminate his lobbying role but hopes to continue to work as an engineering consultant.

House Democrats plan to take up the matter Monday.

Reported by Associated Press reporter Mike Coppock and Daily News reporter Lisa Demer.

Daily News staff and wire reports