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Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, Alaska House minority leader, stepping down

Pat Forgey
Longtime Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who has led Democrats in the Alaska House through numerous political battles, is stepping down from her post to accept a fellowship with alma mater, Stanford. State of Alaska

JUNEAU -- Longtime Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who has led Democrats in the Alaska House of Representatives through historic oil tax battles, told colleagues on the first day of the 2014 legislative session that she plans to step down this week to accept a fellowship at Stanford University.

"The timing all came together in an amazing way, and I'll get to work on ocean and Arctic policy issues that have been a passion of mine," she said.

Democratic Whip Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, will move from the No. 2 position to lead the caucus.

Kerttula will become visiting fellow with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford, her alma mater.

Her resignation will mean the selection of a new leader for the Democratic House minority, as well as a new appointment to the downtown Juneau legislative seat Kerttula has held since 1999. That process, however, is unlikely to be a repeat of the bitter battle over the Juneau state Senate seat held by former Sen. Kim Elton, who resigned in 2009 to join the Obama Administration with the Department of Interior.

Kerttula had sought the appointment to Elton's vacant seat, but then-Gov. Sarah Palin, still smarting over Kerttula's support for the candidacy of Barack Obama, was unwilling to appoint Kerttula. Juneau Democrats broke with tradition and instead of giving Palin a slate of three options to choose from, submitted only Kerttula's name for the nomination.

Palin responded by seeking nominations for the position on her own, but her nominees were then unable to win the required confirmation from Senate Democrats.

Eventually, former Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan was confirmed as senator, with the support of Kerttula, the Democrats and Palin.

Egan said Kerttula welcomed him to the Capitol, and her leadership will be missed.

"I hate to see her go, I really do," he said. "She was a mentor to me when I was mayor and on the Assembly -- I've know her since she was a little kid."

Egan said his father, former Gov. Bill Egan, and Kerttula's father, Jay Kerttula, served together in the Territorial Legislature. Later, Bill Egan served twice as governor while Jay Kerttula served as both Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Alaska Senate.

Kerttula said she's already notified the Juneau Democrats, and that they have changed their rules to prevent a repeat of the previous clash, but would be involved in their decision.

"They'll make three good choices, and send them to the governor. I think it's most appropriate that I stay out of that process," she said.

Already expressing interest in the nomination from the local Democratic party are Jesse Kiehl, an aide to Egan and a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and Ken Alper, a Kerttula aide on natural resources issues and a local business owner.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com