Gov. Bill Walker once again sidestepped the regular legislative vacancy appointment process on Friday with the appointment of Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke to replace Wasilla Sen. Mike Dunleavy.
Local Republicans had put forward three candidates, including sitting Rep. George Rauscher, to fill Dunleavy’s seat. Kowalke, who has already filed to run for Dunleavy’s seat in the 2018 elections as a Republican, applied for the position with local Republicans but didn’t make the top five candidates, according to a post by the Alaska Landmine.
Walker didn’t explain his decision to go off-list with this pick, though he did the same with the replacement of Rep. Dean Westlake after problems with the candidates became clear. There was no similar revelation about this slate of appointments, though Rauscher’s office door was photographed with a “BDSM FREE ZONE” sticker shortly after Rep. Zach Fansler was accused of assaulting a woman, apparently making light of Fansler’s attempt to explain the incident away as “BDSM kink.”
“Randall is the best person to represent this district,” Governor Walker said. “He brings a wealth of perspective to the Senate at this critical moment in Alaska’s history, and will do an excellent job representing the values of the people of Senate District E.”
Kowalke’s appointment will need to be confirmed by Senate Republicans, and judging by the statements released tonight it seems like he’ll be met with a frosty response though they didn’t outright refuse to consider him. Mat-Su Sens. Shelley Hughes and David Wilson released a joint statement about their disappointment with the process, but said they “congratulate and welcome their new colleague, if confirmed, to the legislature despite their concern with the governor’s indifference to the people of District E.”
“Although under the law, the governor can go off-list and choose whomever he desires, the question is, should he have?” Hughes said in the statement. “Should he have sidestepped the people? I believe not. I don’t believe the governor knows better than the people who can best represent them.”
Senate President Pete Kelly also released a statement critical of the appointment, but said the Senate will consider it.
“While we recognize a fine choice by the governor in Mr. Kowalke, we would prefer the governor work through the traditional process involving local participation from the districts,” he said. “The Senate Republicans will meet next week to discuss the governor’s appointment.”
Traditionally, the appointment process has local party members send three candidates to the governor’s office, and the governor selects from that list with his decision confirmed by legislators from the candidate’s party. However, law only requires that the governor appoint a candidate of the departing member’s party and that the candidate be approved by the same party’s legislators. It doesn’t require him to select from the three-person list sent to him.