Walker makes new Senate pick while defending initial choice

Gov. Bill Walker named Thomas Braund to fill a vacant Alaska Senate seat after Senate Republicans rejected his first choice.

Walker did not offer an endorsement of Braund, and in a letter Wednesday to Senate President Pete Kelly said he believes his initial pick, Randall Kowalke, was the best candidate to replace Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, who left the Senate to run for governor just before the start of the session.

Kowalke applied for the seat but was not one of the three names sent to Walker by Republicans in the district. Braund was on the initial list, along with first-term Rep. George Rauscher and Todd Smoldon. State GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock has said that Braund is a retired policeman.

Appointees must be from the party of their predecessor. When a vacancy occurs, parties traditionally send a list of names to the governor for consideration though he is not bound to them.

The appointment, however, is subject to confirmation, in this case, by Senate Republicans.

Walker's decision to stray from the list irritated Republicans, who saw it as an affront to their process.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday urged Walker to go back to the district for a new list if he could not support a candidate from the initial slate of finalists. But Walker stood behind Kowalke setting the stage for the failed confirmation.

In a statement released Wednesday by Senate Republicans explaining their rejection of Kowalke, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche said the people of Senate District E "should be given an opportunity to fill the seat with a candidate they support through the traditional process, which is designed to respect the will of the voters."

In a statement, Walker, a one-time Republican no longer affiliated with a political party, said he believes Senate Republicans "will continue to reject anyone I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person's name is on the list provided to me by the Republican party."

According to Walker, he received more support for Kowalke from Mat-Su residents and elected officials than for all the other applicants combined. Recommendations for Kowalke came from Senate Majority members as well, which Walker said he took “very seriously.”

However, in the interest of ensuring the district has representation in the Senate, he said he is appointing Braund, who is from Sutton.

Wednesday marked Day 30 of the scheduled 90-day session.

Walker did not choose from the list individuals recommended by Democrats in House District 40 to replace Dean Westlake who resigned before the session because of multiple sexual harassment allegations. He instead chose NANA Regional Corp. executive John Lincoln to replace Westlake, who was confirmed by House Democrats.

Journal reporter Elwood Brehmer contributed to this report.

02/15/2018 - 8:40am