Rep. Beth Kerttula announced her resignation from the Alaska House of Representatives Tuesday. The Juneau Democrat and House Minority leader made the announcement on the first day of the second session of the 28th Legislature.
Kerttula has accepted a position as a visiting fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford, which begins Feb. 3. Kerttula's resignation as minority leader is effective immediately, and her last day as a representative will be Friday. Kerttula said the fellowship is not an advocacy position and is non-partisan.
Democratic Whip Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, will take over as leader for the House Democrats. Rep. Max Gruenberg, D- Anchorage, will become the new whip.
“Hardest part of the whole thing I’m doing is leaving midstream and leaving constituents who I care about very deeply, and who it’s been my true honor to serve,” Kerttula said in an interview Tuesday morning. “But after 15 years in, I know that what I’m doing is the right thing.”
Kerttula, a Stanford alumna, said that her final acceptance of the fellowship didn’t happen until last Friday, and it couldn’t be delayed until the end of the session.
Kerttula has represented Juneau since 1998 and has been the House Minority leader since 2006. Her resignation leaves only nine Democrats in the House, one shy of the 10-member minimum for the group to be recognized as a formal minority. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, could choose to not recognize their caucus and could even pull their committee appointments, though Chenault said that wouldn’t be happening.
“There’s no point in shuffling around the committee appointments and staff,” Chenault said.
Juneau was without one of its lawmakers for the last half of the 2009 session when Sen. Kim Elton resigned to take a job with the Obama administration. Then-Gov. Sarah Palin and Senate Democrats were at odds about who should fill the position until the final days of the session when Dennis Egan was appointed. Kerttula met with Gov. Sean Parnell Tuesday morning to inform him of her intent to resign.
"This governor has been very consistent on appointments and has acted quickly and thoughtfully and I'm sure that's how he's going to treat this," Kerttula said.
During a press conference with Chenault, Kerttula said understanding the potential fallout from her resignation has been humbling.
"You could potentially lose your caucus under the rules. You could get stripped of you committees. You could get stripped of staff and it is with profound gratitude that I know that is not the kind of person this speaker is and that that is not going to happen," Kerttula said.
Chenault said he hadn't yet decided what will happen with Kerttula's staff, however, minority spokesman Mark Gnadt will continue in his position under Rep. Tuck.
Tongass Democrats, Juneau's local party organization, will have to submit the names of three candidates to Parnell for him to choose Kerttula's replacement. Nancy Courtney, the organization's chair, said Tuesday morning that a list of interested candidates was not yet available.
Ken Alper, Kerttula aide and the House Democrats' go-to oil guy, and Jesse Kiehl, Juneau assemblyman and aide to Sen. Egan, both said that they're putting their name in for Kerttula's seat. Kerttula has run unopposed in the last four elections and would have been up for re-election this fall.
Parnell has 30 days to appoint a new representative to District 32, which includes downtown Juneau, Douglas Island, Petersburg, Skagway, Gustavus, Tenakee Springs, Excursion Inlet and Hobart Bay. The replacement must be approved by a majority of the remaining 13 House Democrats, four of which are rural representatives who traditionally caucus with the majority. Constituents may continue to contact Kerttula's office with legislative concerns.
Kerttula is leaving the Legislature at a time when heavy-hitting topics like shrinking state revenues, a state equity in a natural gas line, and education funding and policy are expected to take center stage. Kerttula said she feels confident that despite her departure, House Democrats and the Juneau delegation are well positioned to continue on without her.
“It’s hard to leave my friends (Egan and Rep. Cathy Muñoz), but they both understand, they’re both willing to shoulder a little more — which it will be — to carry on for the district,” Kerttula said. “We may have issues that we disagree on from time to time, but the three of us have always been solidly committed to serving our constituents.”
Kerttula's Stanford fellowship is for one year, with the possibility to be renewed for a second year. She will be responsible for researching the intersections of ocean science and policy. The center chose Kerttula because of her experience as a lawmaker and knowledge of coastal community issues. Kerttula credited her husband, University of Alaska Southeast professor Jim Powell, with teaching her and encouraging her interest in climate change, ocean acidification and human adaptation. She said her husband will join her in California. The couple will not be selling their Juneau home and intend to return after the fellowship. Kerttula said she didn't know if she'd return public office.
Kerttula's father, Jay Kerttula, served in the Legislature for over three decades. Before serving in the Legislature, Kerttula was an attorney in the Attorney General's office. She focused on oil, gas and mining issues in that office. She's been involved in coastal zone management and served as the chair of the Coastal States Organization Legal Council.
“I have enjoyed working with Beth over the past fourteen years, not just in terms of Speaker-Minority Leader or Republican-Democrat; she’s a kind and thoughtful woman that set a good example for her fellow legislators. She’s been a strong advocate for the Capital, her legislation and her causes. She will be missed. Her family has contributed much to our state, and Beth has continued its legacy. I wish her and Jim well on the move, and hope she finds success at Stanford.”
-House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski
“It’s a tremendous loss for District 32 – Beth’s been an incredible public servant for a long time. We have a great working relationship, and have been friends since childhood. Her dad and my dad served together. Juneau will miss her, but I wish her the best in her new endeavor.”
-Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau
"I wish Rep. Kerttula the very best. When I first learned that she was leaving, I think my first reaction was not only surprise but was also sadness because we do have such a great working relationship. She's been very, very good to work with; she's also served her constituents very well and with distinction. I'm really going to miss her."
-Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau
“Beth Kerttula served with honor and integrity. We wish her well with her fellowship at Stanford. She was a team player who always put the values of her constituents first and her ready smile will be missed in the halls of the Capitol.”
-Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla
“Beth has been a great leader. We will miss her knowledge, experience, and guidance, and we wish her the best. She’s certainly the right person for the job. I appreciate the faith and trust our members have in me. We have a strong and capable caucus, and we’re still focused on the jobs the voters sent us here to do. We are confident House Democratic legislators will still have a positive impact for Alaskans this session.”
-New House Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage
"I appreciate Beth's service to the people of Juneau and the state. She has been an effective leader for her caucus and a bridge to work through differences in the Capitol. I wish her well as she embarks on a new journey."
-Gov. Sean Parnell