Dunleavy picks Rep. Revak to fill Senate vacancy, backs off PFD special session

Programming note: Given the day’s news, the weekly Friday in the Sun column will be delayed until Saturday morning.

$1,606.

That’s the size of this year’s PFD, but it hardly featured in a news conference called today by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy that loaded with other issues facing the administration.

Chief among the announcements was that the governor has selected Anchorage Republican Rep. Josh Revak to fill the Senate District M vacancy following Senate Republicans’ rejection last week of Rep. Laddie Shaw. Dunleavy had until Sunday to announce his nomination for the seat.

Revak’s chance of being confirmed by Senate Republicans is just as unlikely as it was for Shaw, but nonetheless Dunleavy pinned the chance of a third special session to deliver the remainder of the $3,000 PFD on Revak’s confirmation.

“We are going to see how this confirmation goes because we want to have a full cadre of 20 senators. We hope that happens sooner rather than later,” he said. “Once that occurs, we’ll be getting back to you as to when we’ll be calling that third special session. … We want to have representation from that district and we want to have a full a contingent of 20 senators available to be part of the session.”

Though state law sets out a timeline for the governor to fill legislative vacancies (30 days after the initial vacancy and 10 days if the Legislature fails to confirm the appointee), there’s no deadline for the Senate Republicans to take up the appointment. Senate Republicans waited three weeks before rejecting Shaw.

Senate President Cathy Giessel said the issue came down to Shaw’s position on the PFD. She said his support of Dunleavy’s promised $3,000 dividend ran contrary to the late Sen. Chris Birch’s position on the PFD. Birch had frequently advocated for a smaller dividend that limited cuts to state services and didn’t rely on implementing new taxes.

Revak, like Shaw, supports Dunleavy’s position on a $3,000 dividend. The two were part of a group of 22 pro-$3,000 PFD legislators who went to Wasilla instead of Juneau this summer.

When asked if the selection of Revak—who was not on the slate of candidates offered up by local Republicans—was intended to reshape the Senate’s position on the dividend in the lead up to the special session, Dunleavy said no.

“No, he was elected by individuals in that district as a representative,” Dunleavy said. “He has experience, he has qualifications, I think he has character and integrity. Rep. Revak, just like other senators and House members, they have a whole toolbox—a toolkit—to bring bear on a whole host of issues. Not just one. That wasn’t the reason.”

Dunleavy shied away from saying he had a firm deadline before he would give up on calling a third special session this year, saying he’s confident that the Senate would confirm Revak. He didn’t give any evidence that the Senate changed his mind and when asked if he had reached out to the Senate to advocate for Revak, he said his appointment was advocacy.

Still, the clock is fast ticking away for Dunleavy to fit in a third special session this year.

With the requirement that legislators get a 30-day notice before a new special session, whatever Dunleavy calls will almost certainly conflict with Thanksgiving, the holiday season and any pre-session preparations.

The appointment of Revak to the Senate would also open up a seat in the House. When asked about that process, Dunleavy simply said “We’ll have to move fast.”

Why it matters

It doesn’t appear that Dunleavy has learned anything from the failure to appoint Shaw to the Senate.

Though there’s been increased chatter about something other than the PFD being the issue with Shaw’s confirmation, he was considered to be one of the safest bets for getting a pro-Dunleavy appointee through a fractured group of Senate Republicans. Shaw is generally well-liked and has a lengthy list of accomplishments in military service and in state service.

Revak is also a veteran but his time in office has been more openly troubled than Shaw’s has been. Early on, he took part in a thoroughly bizarre attempt to confirm Rep. Sharon Jackson to her appointed seat and then later one of his staffers allegedly punched Landmine editor Jeff Landfield at a Juneau bar.

Additionally, Senate Republicans last year made a huge issue out of local district involvement when former Gov. Bill Walker ignored the local party’s recommendations and went off list to fill Dunleavy’s vacancy. That’s not precisely what’s happened here because Dunleavy based his original decision on the list provided by the local party officials, but Dunleavy today didn’t mention local party involvement in the selection of Revak.

Revak was not on the original slate of three candidates for the appointment though he had put his name into consideration. According to at least one account of the original nomination process, Revak didn’t even come in fourth. Birch’s daughter, Tali Kindred Birch, reportedly tied for third before a tie breaker put her in fourth. She was not mentioned by Dunleavy today.

All said and done it’s unlikely that Revak’s appointment will sway a divided Senate, which means that Dunleavy’s promise of a third special session this year is also unlikely to come to pass.

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