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Palin nominates Grussendorf, again

Governor tells senators to take appointees in order

Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin re-appointed legislative aide Tim Grussendorf to Juneau's vacant Senate seat on Wednesday, just hours after a legislative attorney said such a move would not be valid. The appointment came even as Tuesday's new appointee, contractor Alan Wilson, worked the Capitol halls to garner support.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The re-appointment of Grussendorf follows Wednesday's highly unusual triple appointment of Grussendorf and Joe Nelson, two recently rejected appointees, and Wilson.

A senior Democratic senator, Johnny Ellis of Anchorage, said a confirmation vote was unlikely as Palin's appointments appeared invalid.

"We do not have a legal appointment," Ellis said after the governor's attempt to appoint three people to the same seat.

Pam Finley, an attorney with Legislative Legal Services, provided a written opinion saying the appointment of three people did not meet the requirements of state law.

Finley also said a second appointment of Grussendorf would be "improper."

Just hours later, Palin made a second appointment of Grussendorf.

Neither Grussendorf nor Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who Grussendorf works for, returned phone calls after the appointment.

Nelson said late in the day that he notified the governor's office to take his name out of consideration for the appointment.

"I'm basically pulling my name out of the mix," Nelson said, "It's just getting a little too crazy."

The ongoing appointment drama is the talk of the Capitol, even while the session winds down to a Sunday deadline and final budget bills are debated.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, denounced the governor's multiple appointments.

"That was stunning to me, and I think stunning to many people," he said.

Palin was not following the law, he said, and thus the Senate currently has no name before it to confirm.

"That's not an appointment, that's an abdication of the governor's duty under the law," French said.

Palin said her re-appointment of Grussendorf was "to eliminate confusion expressed by some in the Senate." Her intent, she said, was that they take her nominations of Grussendorf, Nelson and Wilson in the order they were listed in Tuesday's letter.

Wednesday's letter said "If Mr. Grussendorf is not confirmed, I appoint Mr. Joseph G. Nelson to the vacant seat for Senate District B." It said the same for Wilson if Nelson was not confirmed.

While waiting at the Capitol to meet with senators, Wilson said he didn't know Palin was going to nominate three people.

"It would have been nice to be forewarned," he said.

Wilson said he just wanted to provide representation for Juneau, not get into a battle between Palin and legislators.

He said he did not want to take a position on the legality of Palin's appointment.

"I'm not a legal expert," he said.

Ellis said a legal opinion that Palin's appointment of three separate people was invalid was "crystal clear."

In addition to the triple appointment, Finley also reviewed the re-appointment question.

Finley said Nelson could not be "another" appointee under the law because he had just been appointed and then rejected. Likewise, Grussendorf, because he was earlier rejected as well, would not comply with the law.

"In line with the clear intent that the governor appoint someone who has not already been rejected, a second appointment of Mr. Grussendorf would also be improper," Finley wrote Wednesday morning, prior to Grussendorf's re-appointment.

Also prior to Grussendorf's second appointment, Wilson said he was working for confirmation as though the appointment was valid.

Palin's choice for attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross, said Palin's nominations were as legal as the Senate Democrats rejecting Grussendorf and Nelson in secret meetings and not revealing what votes were taken in those meetings.

"I'm concerned that people are getting bogged down on technicalities," he said.

Ellis later distributed a copy of a letter signed by seven of the nine Democratic senators who rejected Grussendorf.

Ross said the Democrats' objections are delaying Juneau's representation in the Senate.

"Why don't we get somebody in there who can represent Juneau?" he said.

On the Senate floor, French denounced Ross' position that they "just forget the law."

French called that a "very, very troubling suggestion" from Ross.

Ross' confirmation vote as attorney general is scheduled for Thursday. He said the reaction he's received to the appointment may hurt his chances at confirmation, but he's confident he did the right thing.

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



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