Who is Sean Parnell?

Future Alaska governor has had his share of surprises, too

Posted: Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell had an unremarkable first year in office, loyally supporting Gov. Sarah Palin.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

But in the past year and half, a crescendo of unexpected announcements and dramatic developments have thrust him into a more prominent role, culminating with his unanticipated move into the No. 1 seat announced Friday. One day later a spokesman for the governor's office said Parnell would seek a full term in 2010. But for the next year and a half the job is all his.

Parnell made headlines in March 2008 with his surprise decision to run against 18-term incumbent Don Young in the U.S. House Republican primary, a race he narrowly lost. At the time, he told the Anchorage Daily News he was running to restore "integrity and budget discipline."

Though he has a reputation for being approachable and friendly, he was criticized by Democrats during the House primary race for not being more accessible to voters. Parnell bowed out of the Congressional race, which he lost by 304 votes, without seeking a recount; he said he was confident in the process and could not justify spending more state money.

He wasn't the first political upstart named Parnell that Young defeated in his long tenure. Parnell's father, Pat, lost to Young as a Democrat in 1980.

On policy matters, Parnell has been particularly outspoken on domestic violence. He cited the Domestic Violence Act of 1996 among his proudest work as a state legislator. In an October 2007 column in the Empire, he said he understood first-hand the devastating impact alcohol and violence has on families.

"I know something of the ravaging effects of substance and domestic abuse from my own family history," Parnell wrote. "My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who verbally and physically pummeled his kids."

He said he was grateful that his father was able to break the cycle.

"My brother and I, our lives and our families, are living proof that a life-change can happen," he wrote.

In April 2009, he criticized the lack of action on a state measure requiring minors have parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

"These legislators have now taken the extreme position that concerned parents can't even be assured they will be notified when their minor daughter faces an abortion," he said.

The bill stalled this year, but a former lieutenant governor is pushing it separately in the form of a ballot initiative with Palin's backing.

Parnell has also stated support of energy independence and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

In August 2008, Palin's move to the national stage as a vice presidential candidate left Parnell to shoulder more executive responsibilities in Alaska, and forced Alaskans to reassess him as a possible governor. On July 26, that possibility will become reality when Palin hands him the reins of state government.

Parnell didn't telegraph any big changes. In prepared remarks Friday, he said he will continue the course she established. His top priority will be securing the natural gas pipeline that's expected to fuel years of economic prosperity in the state.

He also expressed his respect and affection for the governor.

"I profoundly respect your decision for I know the depth of character and integrity from which it springs. Rare, indeed, are such selfless acts seen in the public arena," he said.

Parnell's beginnings

Parnell, now 46, was born in Hanford, Calif., a city of 50,000. When he was 10, his father decided to move the family of four to Anchorage, where he had been stationed at Fort Richardson. The boys attended East Anchorage High.

Parnell earned a law degree from Seattle University School of Law in 1987 and a bachelor's degree in business administration at Pacific Lutheran University.

He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992 and served two terms before being elected to the Senate in 1996. In the Senate, he acted as co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He did not run for a second term.

"This was strictly a family decision," he said in an Empire interview in April 2000. "I'd like to say that I married my wife because I want to spend time with her."

He also said he wanted more stability for his young daughters, Grace and Rachel.

Six years later, he was running alongside Palin in her 2006 gubernatorial bid.

In between, he worked as a commercial contract attorney in Anchorage and in 2003, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed him deputy director of the state's Division of Oil and Gas.

In 2005, he became a partner in the Anchorage branch of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Patton Boggs, whose clients include ConocoPhillips and, specifically for Valdez oil spill litigation, Exxon Mobil.

He is active in his church and other community groups including Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. Hobbies include running, skiing, reading and fly fishing.

Parnell and his wife, Sandy, have been married for over 20 years. Their daughters are now in their teens.



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