Elton's seat gaining interest

Palin to appoint within 30 days, Rep. Kerttula on candidate list

Posted: Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A list of candidates who should represent Juneau in the Alaska Senate is solidifying, with Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, looking to be the popular nominee.

The longtime Juneau legislator is looking to replace former Sen. Kim Elton, who resigned Monday to take a position with the Obama administration. Elton will now be dealing with Alaska issues while based in Washington, D.C. as Director of Alaska Affairs for Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of Interior.

Gov. Sarah Palin will make the appointment within 30 days, according to state law. Her appointment must be of a Democrat, and must be approved by the Senate's Democrats.

Juneau Democratic leaders are readying a list of nominees for the position, but Palin is not required to choose from those candidates.

Some possible candidates may not fit the party's announced criteria of having been a registered Democrat for a least one year, however.

Juneau Democratic Party Chairwoman Kim Metcalfe said the deadline is short to enable the position to be filled as quickly as possible, but the fact Elton was being considered for the federal appointment was well known, and the search started before the formal appointment was made.

"We figured this was going to happen, but nobody knew when," she said.

Possible nominees include:

• Joe Nelson, a Sealaska board member and a Director of Admissions at the University of Alaska Southeast. He is married to former Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, who left the Legislature after the last session.

• Tim Grussendorf, an aide to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and a commercial fisherman. He is the son of former House Speaker Ben Grussendorf, D-Sitka.

• Kerttula, who has represented Juneau in the House for 10 years. Her husband, Jim Powell, is a former Assembly member. Her father, Jay Kerttula, served for years in the Legislature, including as Senate President.

• Gordon Jackson, Director of Roads and Transportation for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He said he would like to see the Legislature do more to support Juneau's Kensington Mine. He also is a former CEO of the Kake Tribal Corp. "I don't think that anyone who knows me has ever doubted that I've been a Democrat," he said.

• Margo Waring, a former Juneau School Board member. She is married to attorney Doug Mertz.

• Former Rep. Andrea Doll, who lost her re-election bid last year to current Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, for the valley seat that is one of two House districts that make up the Senate District represented by Elton.

One possible candidate identified yesterday, Amy Skilbred, said she's backing Kerttula.

"I think Beth is a great candidate, and the governor should appoint her," she said.

Another, Gordon Jackson, said he put his name forward to give the governor a choice.

"I put my name in as an alternative, in case the governor may not want to pick Beth," he said.

During last fall's presidential election, Kerttula said publicly she did not believe Palin was qualified to be vice president.

Two of the possible nominees may not meet the Juneau Democrats' requirement of being a registered Democrat for one year prior to the nomination.

Grussendorf was recently registered as a Republican, despite running as a Democratic candidate against former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, several years ago. Waring also might not qualify because she was registered undeclared during the last election, according to the Division of Elections.

Grussendorf said he registered as a Republican to cast a vote in a contested Republican primary in a race in which there was no Democrat running, but at heart says he is a conservative Democrat.

"I don't think that anyone who knows me has ever doubted that I've been a Democrat," he said.

Elton weighed in on Kerttula's behalf in his legislative newsletter, calling Kerttula "seasoned, smart and tireless," and said he hoped Palin would quickly promote her to the Senate.

The Democratic Party's application deadline is 5 p.m. today. The party's top four Juneau leaders will meet to discuss the applications in the evening, but Metcalfe said she did not know if they'd make a decision on who to nominate at that time.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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