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Alaska Legislature

Walker skips over GOP suggestions, appoints Willow man to Mat-Su state Senate seat

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: February 9, 2018
  • Published February 9, 2018

On Friday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced that he'd appointed Mat-Su Assemblyman Randall Kowalke to fill the state Senate seat formerly held by Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Randall Kowalke (Courtesy Mat-Su Borough)

GOP leaders in Dunleavy's Senate District E, following longstanding political tradition, gave Walker a list of three candidates to choose from. But state law allows Walker to select any registered Republican.

In a statement, Walker didn't explicitly say why he'd passed over the three others: Sutton Republican Rep. George Rauscher and two local GOP officials, Todd Smoldon and Tom Braund.

"Randall is the best person to represent this district," Walker's statement quoted him as saying. "He brings a wealth of perspective to the Senate at this critical moment in Alaska's history and will do an excellent job representing the values of the people of Senate District E."

Kowalke's appointment is subject to confirmation by Senate Republicans.

In a statement, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, called Kowalke a "fine choice." But, he added: "We would prefer the governor work through the traditional process involving local participation from the districts."

"The Senate Republicans will meet next week to discuss the governor's appointment," the statement quoted Kelly as saying.

One Mat-Su Republican senator, Shelley Hughes of Palmer, said she would vote against Kowalke — if a vote even happens.

"I'm not even sure at this point there will be a vote on Kowalke. There may be further discussions with the governor," Hughes said in a phone interview. She added: "It's not a personal attack against Kowalke — I'm supporting the people of the district."

Another Senate Republican, Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River, said she wasn't approached by Walker's administration about the appointment before Friday's announcement. She would have preferred Walker to select Rauscher, she said, and added that there was no guarantee Kowalke would be confirmed.

"I don't think it's a done deal," she said. "I think we'll have a good conversation about the governor's selection and the process around that selection."

MacKinnon said Senate Republicans have been hearing from constituents in Dunleavy's district who are unhappy about Walker's decision to ignore the three suggestions.

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