Palin tries second pick for Juneau Senate seat

Grussendorf dropped; Joe Nelson appointed

Posted: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin has appointed Joe Nelson, an administrator at the University of Alaska Southeast, to Juneau's open Senate seat.

On Monday, she abandoned her support for Tim Grussendorf, a legislative aide who had strong backing from some legislators but failed to attract support by Juneau Democratic Party leaders or a majority of Democratic senators.

Nelson had applied for the Senate appointment, but was not among four Juneau residents recommended last week. Along with Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, Democrats recommended former mayor Sally Smith, Assembly Member Jeff Bush and former Juneau representative Mike Miller.

Seven of the Senate's nine Democratic senators on Monday sent Palin a letter asking her to follow tradition and select a candidate recommended by the party.

"We request you follow the long-standing Alaskan tradition of choosing a name from the list submitted to you by the same political party that nominated the predecessor in office, which in this particular case is the Juneau Democrats," wrote Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, and six other senators.

Not signing the list were Sens. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and Donny Olson, D-Nome. Grussendorf works for Hoffman, who had said publicly he would back Palin's nominee.

Palin said she was not bound by that recommendation, and the Alaska Constitution gives her the power to make the appointment.

"Although I appreciate the input, I am not limited by law to the recommendations of one interest group," she said in her nomination letter.

Nelson attended college at the University of California for his bachelor's and master's degrees, and then Loyola Law School.

He is an Alaska Native who serves as director of admissions at UAS. He is a member of the Alaska Bar Association and director of Sealaska Corp., as well as Yak-tat Kwaan Inc. village corporation in Yakutat, where he is originally from.

He did not return phone calls Monday.

Nelson is married to former Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, who served in the Legislature for 10 years. She chose not to run for re-election last year.

Palin's letter appointing Nelson provided no reasons for the decision. Instead, it focused mostly on the rejected Grussendorf nomination. Senate Democrats will still need to confirm Nelson's appointment.

Democratic senators met in a secret meeting Wednesday to reject Grussendorf, despite a state law saying decisions by governmental bodies should be made in public.

Palin criticized the closed meeting.

"I am disappointed that Mr. Grussendorf's nomination was not addressed in an open and public manner," she wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats.

The governor has backed off an earlier demand that Republicans also participate in the confirmation process. Monday's letter said she was backing off her demand for a public meeting as well.

"I have grave concerns that the Senate Democrats have chosen to ignore the obligation for open meetings. However, the problem is for the Senate to resolve," she said.

Palin's action Monday appeared to take observers and even participants in the process by surprise.

"The governor remains solid in her support for me," Grussendorf wrote in a letter to Kerttula, urging her to withdraw from her quest for the seat and support him.

Earlier, Juneau Democrats made a similar request of Grussendorf.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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