Palin nominates Daniel Sullivan as attorney general

Nominee is former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State

Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SOLDOTNA - Gov. Sarah Palin on Tuesday appointed a former Anchorage lawyer with White House and State Department service to be Alaska's new attorney general, just weeks after state lawmakers rejected her last choice.

M. Scott Moon / The Associated Press
M. Scott Moon / The Associated Press

Daniel S. Sullivan, 44, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration, must be confirmed by the Legislature, but will serve in the role until lawmakers reconvene in January.

A blue chip resume - including a bachelor's degree from Harvard and law degree from Georgetown - coupled with his professional experience were hailed as a boon for the state's law department, which had been the focus of tensions between Palin and lawmakers since she was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

"This is a remarkable man and we are fortunate he is repatriating himself in Alaska," said Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, House Judiciary Committee co-chairman.

Palin's last pick for attorney general was the controversial Wayne Anthony Ross, an Anchorage attorney and National Rifle Association director who became the first-ever gubernatorial pick rejected by Alaska lawmakers earlier this year. Ross had been nominated to replace Talis Colberg, who resigned in the aftermath of the Legislature's investigation into Palin's firing last summer of her public safety commissioner.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was looking forward to asking Sullivan about his legal philosophy and who he thinks he should represent as attorney general - a concern that led her to oppose Palin's last nominee for the post.

"My belief is the attorney general represents the people, not the governor," she said.

Sullivan was quick to allay that lingering suspicion some lawmakers had with both Colberg and Ross. Sullivan said he has a very clear sense of the responsibilities of the position, as dictated by state statute.

"As attorney general, the ultimate responsibility and duty is to the laws and the constitution of the state of Alaska," he said.

Sullivan said he's not only the governor's top legal adviser, but also works closely with the state Legislature. He planned to send a letter Tuesday to all 60 lawmakers underscoring the seriousness in which he views working with everyone.

Ramras predicted Sullivan would be approved unanimously by both chambers.

"He will be a welcome voice and leader for the Department of Law to work with the Legislature constructively and be helpful to Gov. Palin in refocusing on state issues, and doing things that are more constructive for the state of Alaska than just picking a fight with David Letterman," Ramras said.

At the State Department, Sullivan focused on international energy issues, including the Office of the Federal Coordinator for the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects.

"Dan's extensive knowledge of global energy issues will help Alaska fulfill its potential as a critical source of America's energy security while also lowering energy costs for Alaskans," Palin said in a statement Tuesday.

The appointment was praised by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has worked with Sullivan in D.C. and by Drue Pearce, the federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects.

"We spoke regularly about Arctic policy and specifically about the Alaska natural gas pipeline project," Pearce said.

Sullivan will make $122,640 a year as attorney general. He said energy issues would remain a top concern of his. Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Sullivan will be based in Anchorage.

Among other areas, Sullivan said he will be focusing on the safety of Alaskans, both through lowering crime and in consumer protection and in hiring the best lawyers for the department.

Colberg, Palin's first attorney general, was a prominent figure in Troopergate, the Alaska Legislature's investigation into Palin's firing of her former public safety commissioner.

The legislative probe sought to determine if Palin dismissed the commissioner after he refused to fire a trooper who went through a bitter divorce from Palin's sister. Palin had initially agreed to cooperate with the investigation, but then changed her mind after she became Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, saying the process had become too political.

Colberg filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven of nine state employees challenging legislative subpoenas in the investigation. A judge rejected the lawsuit and the workers later testified.

In February, the Legislature found the governor's husband, Todd Palin, and nine state workers in contempt for ignoring subpoenas. Colberg resigned four days later, saying it was in the best interest of the state to move on. He's now mayor of a suburban borough north of Anchorage.

Then Palin nominated Ross to replace Colberg.

But in April, state lawmakers rejected Ross, who had been criticized for, among other things, refusing to disavow his past characterization of gays as "immoral" and "degenerate."

Ross also ran into trouble with some lawmakers when he waded into the fray this spring between Palin and Senate Democrats over filling Juneau's vacant state Senate seat. Palin had to choose a Democrat to replace the incumbent, but she refused to pick the choice of local party leaders and Senate Democrats rejected her first two selections.

Ross had said Democrats should fill the seat without arguing about whether the process was legal or illegal, drawing criticism that he was advising legislators to ignore the law.

• Juneau Empire reporter Pat Forgey contributed to this story.

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