Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced Wednesday that he's appointing former Democratic state Sen. Hollis French to a key oil and gas regulatory agency.
French, who represented an Anchorage district through 2014, was appointed to a long-vacant seat on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which acts as a watchdog and steward for some of the state's natural resources.
"It's a great opportunity," said French, who spent 13 years working on oil fields in Cook Inlet and on the North Slope.
French left his Senate seat to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, but gave up his spot on the ballot when Walker, an independent, merged his gubernatorial campaign with Democrat Byron Mallott's.
Mallott was running for governor, but agreed to join Walker's campaign and now serves as lieutenant governor.
After 11 years in the Senate, French was forced into a one-year waiting period before he could serve in Walker's administration, and some of his friends were pushing for an AOGCC appointment.
Two of the three commission seats are currently filled by veterans of the oil industry — geologist Daniel Seamount Jr. and petroleum engineer Cathy Foerster. State law allocates the two seats to those professions.
But the third seat — for a nonindustry member representing the public — has been vacant for a year since the state Legislature rejected Walker's first choice, former labor official Mike Gallagher.
French, an attorney, will now hold it, though his appointment is subject to legislative confirmation. The Legislature is next scheduled to meet in January.
As a senator, French favored a strengthened oil tax regime and was generally an industry skeptic. Those stances seem to align him with the Walker administration, which is now fighting with the state's biggest oil companies over their willingness to market North Slope gas.
French supported similar efforts a decade ago by the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski to force ExxonMobil to develop the Point Thomson field. The state declared Exxon had defaulted on its leases in 2005 by failing to develop them.
AOGCC commissioners are paid $140,000 a year, according to budget documents.
French said he's not entering the position with a particular agenda.
"My first job is to learn the ins and outs of the day-to-day work of a commissioner," he said. "I need to plant my boots on the ground for a while and get a feel for it."