JUNEAU — Eagle River Republican Rep. Dan Saddler has left his seat in the Alaska Legislature to work for the new administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. While the Alaska Constitution limits the ability of sitting lawmakers to take government jobs, Saddler has provided a legal analysis that indicates his transfer is legal.
Saddler will serve as a communications director and legislative liaison in the Department of Natural Resources.
“People may be concerned, but their concern should be assuaged by the fact that the constitution envisions this particular situation,” he said by phone Monday during the lunch hour.
Article II, Section 5 of the Alaska Constitution states in part, “During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member.”
In the legal analysis, dated Nov. 16 and provided by Saddler, assistant attorney general Maria Bahr writes that “we must determine whether the appointed position in question was created or benefitted by legislative action during the last two years.”
While Bahr’s analysis does not address Saddler’s specific job, she says no increases were made to salaries and benefits in the executive branch during the past two years. In fact, the cost of health care has risen during that period, causing employees' take-home pay to decline.
Saddler did vote on changes to pay and benefits during prior legislative sessions, but that is not relevant under Bahr’s analysis. The position itself was opened by the Dunleavy administration when it solicited and accepted the resignation of former spokeswoman Elizabeth Bluemink.
Bahr said she didn’t have any additional information when reached by phone Monday.
“The constitution is very clear about a position being created, not a vacancy being created,” Saddler said. “I checked it out pretty thoroughly before making the decision to go to DNR.”
Saddler announced his resignation on Facebook Friday and started his new job Monday.
In his farewell statement, he said, “I have often said our system of government demands that people of good will must step up and sacrifice their own comfort and security in service to others. It’s been a privilege to serve in the Legislature, and as I step back, I wish my successor every success in taking on this responsibility and privilege.”
It is not yet clear who that successor will be. Saddler, who has been in office since winning election in 2010, chose not to run for re-election this year. Instead, he sought to replace Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, who did not seek another term. Saddler lost that race to fellow Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.
With Saddler out of the race for House District 13, former Republican representative Nancy Dahlstrom ran for the seat and won, defeating Democratic candidate Danyelle Kimp.
Less than a month after that electoral win, Dahlstrom accepted a spot in the Dunleavy administration as commissioner of corrections.
That allows Dunleavy to appoint a replacement, subject to confirmation by Republicans in the House.
Michael Tavoliero is the chairman of the Republican Party in the district and confirmed by phone that the party was soliciting applications for prospective replacements through 5 p.m. Monday.
The district party is scheduled to meet at Piccolino’s Restaurant at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Eagle River to vet those applications and pick a list of finalists to forward to Dunleavy.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Tavoliero said when asked what procedure the district will follow to pick those finalists.
The governor is not required to follow a list of candidates when filling a legislative vacancy, but that has been the traditional process and governors have run into problems when looking beyond the list. Last year, for example, Gov. Bill Walker attempted to appoint Mat-Su Borough assemblyman Randall Kowalke to the Senate seat vacated by Dunleavy after his resignation to run for governor.
That choice was rejected by Senate Republicans, and after another pick withdrew his name from consideration, Walker chose Mike Shower, who won re-election this fall.