Three nominated to fill House seat vacated by Sen. Revak, decision due by Dec. 2

Alaska State CapitolThe Alaska State Capitol as photographed in March 2017. (Photo by gillfoto/Creative Commons)

In a closed-door meeting Monday night, House District 25 Republicans selected their slate of three candidates to fill the house seat left open by the confirmation of Josh Revak to the Senate.

The candidates are Jamie Donley, Mel Gillis and Forrest McDonald. Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has until Dec. 2 to nominate one of the candidates for consideration by sitting House Republicans, who must vote to confirm the nominee.

The seat is the third legislative seat that will be filled through this process during Dunleavy’s time in office. Revak was nominated and confirmed to the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Chris Birch following the fractured Senate Republicans’ rejection of Rep. Laddie Shaw.

Though House Republicans are spread between a bipartisan majority and a Republican minority caucus, the Dunleavy-aligned minority caucus commands enough votes to confirm any candidate Dunleavy sends them.

House Republicans confirmed Rep. Sharon Jackson earlier this year without controversy. Jackson filled a vacancy created when Nancy Dahlstrom left the House before being sworn in in order to take over as the commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

Here’s a rundown of the candidates who were put forward by House District 25:

  • Mel Gillis is a lodge owner who bankrolled the independent expenditure group that backed Revak in the Republican primary over incumbent Rep. Charisse Millett. The Let’s Back Revak independent expenditure group was, coincidentally, chaired by Jeff Landfield (more on that below).
  • Jamie Donley is a lobbyist and wife of Dave Donley, a conservative member of the Anchorage School Board who was on the initial slate of candidates put forward for Birch’s senate seat. Dave Donley also currently works as a deputy commissioner in the Department of Education.
  • Forrest McDonald, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has frequently appeared on the ballot in the Anchorage area, both on Democratic and Republican tickets. He ran as a Democrat in 2016 against Sen. Natasha von Imhof (who beat Landfield in the Republican primary) and later in 2018 as a Republican challenging Rep. Chris Tuck for the House District 23 seat, burning plenty of bridges with Democrats in the process. He since moved to House District 25.

As the Anchorage Daily News pointed out, House District 25 isn’t solidly red. In 2018, it voted in favor of Alyse Galvin over Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young and Mark Begich over Dunleavy for governor.

The session starts on Jan. 21.

Closed doors

As was the case with the selection of the slate of candidates to fill the late Sen. Chris Birch’s seat, Monday night’s meeting was met with accusations of violating the Alaska Republican Party’s rules for such meetings. Alaska Landmine editor Jeff Landfield attempted to attend the meeting but was barred from entering.

“Again, like last time they’ve locked the door,” he said at the beginning of what was a two-hour livestream from the parking lot of the meeting. “It’s only Republicans of District 25 that are allowed, even though the rules say any Republican is allowed to attend these meetings, that’s very clear in the rules. It also talks about press being allowed to watch.”

Landfield previously criticized the process South Anchorage Republicans used to nominate its initial slate of candidates to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Chris Birch, noting that some of the applicants got to listen into the interviews of other candidates because they sat on the party’s local board.

Landfield, a former Republican candidate himself, has attended every recent effort to fill vacant Republican seats. While no process has been completely free of controversy, he said the nomination processes used in Wasilla and Eagle River have been markedly more open.

“In the past, when Sen. Dunleavy resigned the meeting was very open in Wasilla,” he said. “It was done out in the open, minus the interviews in executive session which is reasonable. When Nancy Dahlstrom took the job as commissioner, the meeting to replace her in Eagle River was very open.”

Why it matters

Name a more iconic duo than Republicans and controversial appointment processes.

The appointment processes have come under plenty of scrutiny in the last year, thanks in large part to Landfield’s eagerness to attend the meetings and knowledge of the party’s rules. The closed-door meetings have given rise to accusations of a rigged process that keeps power consolidated in the hands of party officials. Landfield has complained that the process doesn’t end with a result that represents the district very well.

This time around, though, the slate of applicants was far smaller than the group that applied for the Senate seat. Just four people applied in total. The applicant left off the slate is Brian Webb, also military veteran who works in the oil and gas sector.

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