AG: Palin can appoint an 'acting' lieutenant governor

Special session looks likely for Campbell's confirmation vote

Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2009

State Attorney General Dan Sullivan says Gov. Sarah Palin has the power to appoint Alaska's new lieutenant governor by herself without confirmation by the Alaska Legislature.

Sullivan, in his first formal opinion since he took over June 16, weighed in on the issue created when Palin designated Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, as the new lieutenant governor when Sean Parnell replaces her as governor.

Campbell would step up to the state's No. 2 spot instead of the previous designee, Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt, whom the Legislature has already confirmed.

Sullivan's opinion contradicts that of legislative attorney Tam Cook, who earlier determined that legislative confirmation was required.

"To be honest, it's a very close call," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said it would be better for Campbell to instead be appointed as "acting" or "temporary" lieutenant governor until the Legislature could meet to hold a confirmation vote.

Such a position does not exist in the Alaska Constitution or statutes, though Sullivan said in the opinion that the approach is "consistent with Alaska's constitutional and statutory designs that clearly underscore the critical public interest of continuity in the principal executive offices of the state."

Sullivan's opinion acknowledges that the law "seems to require confirmation in all cases," but determined that the Legislature's intent was that there not be a gap in the line of succession.

Sullivan said his recommendation distinguishes between what can legally be done and what should be done. He said it was important to seek consensus between branches of government.

A few days after Palin announced Campbell would become the new lieutenant governor, Schmidt submitted a letter withdrawing from his designation as next in line to become lieutenant governor, leaving the state without a designated successor.

The succession requirements are rarely used, but important to get right, Sullivan said.

"A lot of very important constitutional and statutory issues are at play," he said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said late Friday that she had yet to fully analyze Sullivan's opinion, but that a special legislative session could solve the problem by making a confirmation vote possible.

"It looks like we're going to have to have a special session to get this cleared up," she said.

The Legislature is not scheduled to meet in regular session until January, though Palin said she will step down on July 26.

A special session may also be called to override Palin's veto of energy stimulus funding, several legislators have said.

"We're probably going to have a special session at any rate to get the stimulus money, so let's get this cleared up too," said Kerttula, a lawyer and former assistant attorney general.

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



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