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Palin stands by her pick for Senate

Governor challenges legality of Senate's closed-door rejection of Grussendorf

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday stood by her appointment of Tim Grussendorf to represent Juneau in the Alaska Senate, despite the Senate's earlier rejection of the legislative aide.

The Palin administration, in a letter to Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, called the rejection of Grussendorf by Senate Democrats invalid because it happened behind closed doors. Chief of Staff Michael Nizich signed the letter.

The Department of Law's opinion "finds that regardless of legislative tradition, the law requires confirmation of vacancy appointments by vote in open session," Nizich wrote.

The conflict over appointments may put Palin past the 10-day requirement for submitting a new name.

"I believe the governor is to blame for this. She's outside the law; she's gone past the 10 days," Kerttula said.

Senior Democratic Sen. Johnny Ellis of Anchorage was unavailable for comment Saturday evening.

Under state law, Palin had the authority to appoint any qualified Democrat to the position, but that appointment must be confirmed by the nine remaining Senate Democrats.

The Democrats met in a closed door meeting without announcing the vote. After Palin objected, they sent a letter signed by seven of nine Senate Democrats rejecting Grussendorf.

Ellis earlier said Democrats had doubts about Grussendorf's status as a Democrat and his support from local Juneau Democratic Party leaders. Grussendorf re-registered as a Democrat to be eligible for the appointment.

After Grussendorf, Palin nominated college administrator Joe Nelson for the seat, but he withdrew his name when Senate Democrats said there was not support for seating him.

Finally, Palin submitted the name of Juneau contractor Alan Wilson as a possible appointee. Wilson had changed his registration to Democrat to be eligible for appointment as well.

Wilson's campaign contributions in recent years went to Palin and Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, but he said he is a Democrat at heart. He declined to comment on his political views.

Ellis has said Palin's recent nomination of Grussendorf, Nelson and Wilson together was invalid, and that the Senate currently had no appointment before it to address.

Nizich's letter Saturday said the Senate does have an active appointment before it for confirmation.

A Legislative attorney said a reappointment of Grussendorf would not be proper, but Nizich maintained that it was because Grussendorf had never been rejected.

"The question if Mr. Grussendorf may be reappointed is not relevant, and will not become so until proper action in open session is taken by the Senate," Nizich wrote.

Grussendorf was unavailable for comment.

Juneau has been without a senator since March 2, when former Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, resigned to take a position with the Obama administration.

Juneau Democratic leaders first recommended Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, for the appointment, and then provided Palin with a list of other acceptable candidates: Assembly member Jeff Bush, former Mayor Sally Smith and former Rep. Mike Miller, D-Juneau. Later, Mayor Bruce Botehlo suggested the name of former Mayor Dennis Egan as a compromise candidate.

Palin instead sought applications on her own, but provided little information about why she selected those she appointed.

Recently, some lawmakers criticized Attorney General appointee Wayne Anthony Ross for his handling of the Juneau Senate seat appointment after he said senators should ignore the law and confirm Palin's appointee for the seat. The Legislature voted down Ross' appointment.

Nizich concluded his letter to Stevens by suggesting a meeting between the nine Senate Democrats and the governor.

"It would be our hope that such a meeting could be held promptly in the interests of full Senate representation for the people of Juneau.

Kerttula said this is a crucial time for Juneau not to have a senator. She said a Juneau senator could have advocated for repairs to the Johnson Youth Center and the subport office building.

"Right now this is a terrible situation that we don't have a senator there in finance looking those guys in the eye," she said.

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



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