Still no senator for capital city

Palin, Democrats are blamed for lengthy appointment process

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

Juneau remains without a state senator, despite a call from Gov. Sarah Palin that Senate Democrats "make haste" in confirming a replacement for former Sen. Kim Elton, whose Senate seat has been vacant for more than a month.

In a press release Thursday, Palin said she "laments the ongoing lack of representation for Juneau."

Palin on Monday nominated University of Alaska Southeast administrator and Alaska Native Joe Nelson, 38, to be Juneau's lone member of the Alaska Senate.

Thursday, Senate Democrats met in the office of Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, to discuss confirming Nelson.

Shortly after 6 p.m. they filed out Ellis' office, offering no comment to reporters gathered outside.

"They have nothing to announce tonight, there may be tomorrow," Spokesman Tim Barry said.

State law requires confirmation by Senate members of the same party as the departing legislator, but provides few details on how that vote should be conducted.

Ellis has said Senate Democrats will be holding a secret meeting to discuss the confirmation, despite a state law saying that meetings of decision-making bodies be made in public.

Barry denied the Senate was taking a long time with the confirmation.

"They are really trying to get it done as soon as possible." he said.

Juneau Democratic Party Chair Kim Metcalfe said the delay has been coming from the governor.

"I think the governor waited, what, 28 days to make the appointment," she said.

Palin's press release urged rapid action from the Democrats.

"Whatever their decision will be, they need to ensure Juneau residents that this seat will be filled in a timely manner," Palin said.

Senate Democrats rejected Palin's first nomination, legislative aide Tim Grussendorf, last week. Palin declined a request from some Senate Democrats, who must confirm her appointment, that she pick someone recommended by the Juneau Democratic Party.

Her preferred candidate, Nelson, did not have that endorsement.

Metcalfe said Palin was responsible for the delay by nominating someone that senators and local Democrats knew little about.

"I think the Senate Democrats are being judicious in their consideration of someone they know very little about," she said.

Nelson met with Democrats Thursday, but left before their discussion.

Palin has said little about Nelson's qualifications for the job, other than that he was well qualified and "clearly loves Alaska." Her prepared statements to Senate Democrats and the press have instead focussed on the process of filling the seat. She has asked there be an open vote.

Juneau Democratic leaders have firmly backed Kerttula for the job, but Palin appears just as firmly opposed to boosting her political rival to the Senate.

Kerttula said Thursday she would like to see the position filled in time to advocate for Juneau in the adopting of the state's budget in the last days of the legislative session.

"My constituents and I have been concerned since Sen. Elton departed about getting a person our community is behind and who can quickly step in and fill the role of being a state senator," Kerttula said.

The legislative session is scheduled to end April 19.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or

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