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Palin drops Murkowski pick

Former governor's son-in-law removed from commission

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin has removed former Gov. Frank Murkowski's son-in-law from the Alaska Railroad Commission, overturning a controversial appointment Murkowski made in the waning moments of his administration.

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Palin announced Sunday she was replacing Leon Van Whye, whose wife, Eileen, is Murkowski's daughter, with John Binkley. A former legislator and former commission member, Binkley had resigned from the commission to run against Palin and Murkowski in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

An hour and a half before Palin's swearing-in on Dec. 4, Murkowski announced 35 appointments to state boards and commissions. Many of them, including the rail commission post, had been vacant for months.

Another of Murkowski's last-minute appointments was Jim Clark, his chief of staff, to the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority. Clark replaced Andy Warwick, the authority's chairman, who had clashed with Murkowski and Clark on the possible route for a gas pipeline.

A few days after taking office, Palin removed Clark and re-appointed Warwick. She said Clark was biased against any pipeline proposal other than Murkowski's.

Binkley, a former state senator, proved popular in Juneau in the gubernatorial primary, winning 62 percent of the Republican votes in the capital. He took 30 percent of the overall vote in the Republican primary, outdoing Murkowski's 19 percent. Palin won the nomination with 51 percent.

In the general election he campaigned for Palin.

Binkley served as chairman of the Railroad Commission from 1996 until 2006. Palin said Binkley's background would be important in keeping the railroad operating profitably.

"The Alaska Railroad will play an increasingly important role in developing our resources and providing the basic transportation to build an Alaska natural gas pipeline," Palin said in a press release.

State Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, supported the change.

"To try to entrench either a relative or your chief of staff, that is an abuse of the authority to appoint," he said.

Palin also appointed to the commission Curt Menard, mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and a former legislator. Leaving the board is Joseph Ralston, vice chairman of a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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