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Sen. Elton will chair Legislative Council

Democratic lawmaker to replace indicted, ailing John Cowdery

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Juneau Sen. Kim Elton was appointed to chair the influential Legislative Council, following Monday's resignation of indicted Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, as chairman.

The council is made up of top members of the House of Representatives and Senate and manages the business of the Legislature.

"I'm flattered that the leadership has put me in this position," Elton said.

The move makes the Juneau Democrat chairman of one of the committees that has power over key capital move issues, such as building new legislative offices in Anchorage or expanding facilities in Juneau.

One of those projects is already underway, the conversion of the former Scottish Rite Temple in Juneau into additional legislative office space.

The appointment was praised by House Democratic leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

"I think it's great," she said. "I think he'll do a great job for Juneau."

For the veteran legislator, it will be his first time to be chairman of a regular committee.

Elton has represented Juneau in the Legislature for 14 years, two terms in the House and now serving his third term in the Senate. Until this year's bipartisan coalition, all his service was in the minority, "much to my regret," he said.

Now, as a member of the Senate Working Group, Elton was eligible for the chairmanship when it opened up. That group elected Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, as Senate President.

Cowdery's resignation as Legislative Council Chair comes after his recent indictment on federal corruption charges.

Earlier, Cowdery resigned his position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee after he was named in court testimony as being one of several legislators accused of taking bribes from VECO Corp.

Both then and now, Cowdery cited health reasons in his resignation letter, and made no mention of the criminal charges he was facing.

Cowdery left the ongoing Juneau special session just after his indictment, and is now in his Anchorage hometown. He remains a member of the Council.

Elton's appointment comes at a time when some legislators are considering an investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

That may involve hiring an investigator to look at the circumstances of the firing, though no such request has yet been made, and no formal investigation has been announced.

The Legislative Council would be asked to fund that request, if such a request were to be made.

"I anticipate there could be," Elton said.

Elton said his first order of business is to meet with Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River, the council's vice-chair, and Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Chair of the committee switches between the House and Senate each session, and will move to the House next year.

Elton said he will be seeking updates on ongoing Legislative Council issues, such as the remodeling of the neighboring Scottish Rite Temple building. Fortunately, he said, he's already been on that committee and knows some of the background information.

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



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