This year's regular session of the Alaska Legislature starts in less than two weeks, which means that things are about to heat up on the state's political scene. Here's what's been happening this past week.
Democrats announce applicants to replace Westlake
Eight people are vying to replace Dean Westlake, the Kiana Democrat who, after women accused him of unwanted sexual advances, resigned last month as the House member representing the state's vast, northernmost district.
The applicants include residents of Northwest Alaska, where Westlake is from, as well as of the North Slope, according to the Alaska Democratic Party, which released a list late Friday.
The applicants include half the six-member Kotzebue City Council: Sandy Shroyer-Beaver, Lewis Pagel and Eugene Smith. There's also Timothy Gavin Jr., the mayor of the village of Buckland; Rosie Hensley, who's managed Kotzebue's public radio station; Patrick Savok, chief of staff to the mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough; Nicole Stoops, executive director of Kotzebue's tribal government; and Leanna Mack of Utqiaġvik, who's worked as an adviser to North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower.
A ninth application was rejected, said Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley, because the man "has a Seattle address."
A nine-member review committee made up of Democratic district members will interview the applicants. They're aiming to forward three names to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker in the next several days, Parmley said.
Walker will then pick one, who will be seated unless he or she is rejected in a vote by House Democrats.
Ethics, salmon initiative backers: Signature-gathering on track
Leaders of the legislative ethics and salmon habitat protection ballot initiatives say they're set to deliver the more than 30,000 signatures they need to put their proposals before voters later this year.
"We are on track," said Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, one of the sponsors of the ethics initiative.
Ryan Schryver, the campaign director of Yes for Salmon, the group pushing the salmon initiative, said the signature-gathering effort is on a "really good trajectory" and should end up with "well over" the number necessary.
The ethics initiative would put new restrictions on legislators' lobbyist-paid meals, daily expense payments and travel. The salmon initiative would boost standards for permitting, though it's fiercely opposed by natural resource extraction groups.
The sponsors of each initiative need at least 32,100 signatures, including 7 percent of voters in 30 of the state's 40 House districts. To get on the ballot this year, they must be turned in before the Jan. 16 start of the legislative session.
Each group is relying on a mix of paid and volunteer signature gatherers. The salmon initiative sponsors reported they'd received a financial boost Wednesday: a $50,000 donation from Michael Kowalski, the former chief executive of jewelry company Tiffany & Co.