Palin's naming of new No. 2 raises questions

Skipping third in line under legal review

Posted: Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Alaska Legislators are questioning whether Gov. Sarah Palin can appoint the state's No. 2 elected official without their input.

When Palin's resignation takes effect, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will automatically become the state's chief executive and vacate the office of lieutenant governor.

In her resignation announcement Friday, Palin said Commissioner Craig Campbell of the Department of Military and Veteran's Affairs would "assume his role as lieutenant governor."

It's not clear how that would happen, as the Alaska Legislature has already designated Commissioner of Corrections Joe Schmidt as next in the line of succession to be lieutenant governor. Deviating from the line of succession will take legislative approval, top legislative leaders say.

"I certainly think she can put Campbell into that position, it's a little bit more unclear whether he can take office without being confirmed by the Legislature," said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

"I think the Legislature should confirm, at a minimum, and the question is when," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, House minority leader.

The Alaska Constitution and state statutes say that the governor should designate someone to step in as lieutenant governor in case the position were to become vacant. Palin named Schmidt to that position, and he was confirmed by the Legislature during the last session.

"We all voted to confirm Joe Schmidt and talked with him about filling the duties of lieutenant governor," Kerttula said. "As much respect as I have for Gen. Campbell, none of us have voted for him."

Chenault said confirmation may require a special session, if it is not Schmidt.

It is not even clear who would appoint a replacement for Parnell. Until the job becomes vacant with Parnell becoming governor, there's no job to fill.

Parnell's chief of staff, Jay Pullins, said they were reviewing the process with the Department of Law now.

"That's under review, we want to make sure everything is done correctly," he said.

Deputy Attorney General Craig Tillery said this appears to be the first time this has ever come up. The only previous resignation by an Alaska governor was when Wally Hickel resigned to become former President Nixon's Secretary of Interior.

Tillery said they were looking at whether Schmidt needed to step down from the succession line and what the Legislature's role should be.

"That's some of the things we're looking at now, and to be honest I don't have the answer," he said.

Schmidt did not return phone calls Monday.

Tillery said he expected the legal review to be done this week. In the meantime, Chenault and Kerttula said legislative lawyers are reviewing the issue as well.

Palin's last attorney general, the short-tenured Wayne Anthony Ross, suggested during the replacement process for Juneau's state senator that the Legislature should ignore the law and allow Palin to appoint whoever she wanted to the seat.

Despite a law requiring replacing Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, with another Democrat, Palin twice tried to appoint nominees who re-registered as Democrats to be eligible for appointment.

The Legislature refused to confirm her appointments, and eventually Palin appointed longtime Democrat Dennis Egan to be Juneau's senator.

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, said he didn't expect any difficulty confirming the well-regarded Campbell, but the Legislature would have to play a role.

"We have a confirmation role," he said. The only one that's been confirmed to be the lieutenant-governor-in-waiting is the corrections commissioner," he said.

Harris, who expects to formally announce a run for governor himself soon, said it was clear to him that Campbell would have to face confirmation.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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