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Juneau Democrats present Parnell with list of possible Kerttula replacements

Pat Forgey
Gov. Sean Parnell will choose a replacement for former Rep. Beth Kerttula from a list of three Juneau Democrats presented to him Monday, but don't expect a debacle like the one in 2009 under then-Gov. Sarah Palin. State of Alaska

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell was presented Monday with a list of three Juneau Democrats from which to choose a replacement for former Rep. Beth Kerttula, but don't expect a debacle like the last Juneau legislative appointment.

In 2009, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was eventually appointed to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Kim Elton, after then-Gov. Sarah Palin refused to appoint her nemesis, Kerttula, to the seat. Egan on Monday delivered to Parnell the names of three nominees from local Democrats: legislative aides Jesse Kiel and Catherine Reardon and engineer/lobbyist Sam Kito III.

"I think he'll do it right," Egan told reporters Monday after his meeting with Parnell.

That means that with Parnell, there will not be a repeat of 2009, Egan said.

"The governor in fact brought that up," Egan said. "He doesn't want a debacle like the last time. He's concerned about things like that."

Juneau Democrats in 2009 started things by breaking from tradition and presenting Palin with a "list" that contained a single name: Kerttula.

Palin responded by seeking her own candidates and making a series of nominations, including some who had to change their party registration to Democrat to be eligible for the appointment. None of Palin's nominations included Kerttula, and none were able to win confirmation from the Senate's remaining Democrats.

Eventually, then-Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho helped negotiate the compromise appointment of Egan to the seat. He was sworn in just before adjournment, after Juneau had been without a senator for most of the session.

While some of the nine applicants for the nomination had recently been registered as something other than as Democrats, Botelho on Monday defended the backgrounds of the three nominees from the Tongass Democrats, the local party organization. "There are no registration issues with any of these candidates," said Botelho, who helped with the vetting process this year.

All three are described by the Democrats as being in the mainstream of local party thinking. Importantly, all three promised to caucus with the other Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Kerttula's resignation dropped her House Minority Caucus to nine members, one below the 10 needed under legislative rules for an official minority that is guaranteed staff and committee assignments.

That includes included Kito, an Alaska Native. Some rural Alaska Native legislators have caucused with the Republican-led House Majority.

And Kiehl, an aide to Egan, also said he'd caucus with the current House Minority. In the Senate, Egan is part of the Republican-led Majority Caucus.

Reardon is an aide to Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, a member of the House Minority.

Egan said he expects Parnell to do his own background checks of the candidates, but that after his conversation with the governor, he expects a new representative to be named from the three recommendations.

"He has every intention of appointing specifically from the list submitted by the Tongass Democrats today," Egan said.

All three said they intended, if appointed, to run for the seat again in the fall. The former Kerttula district is frequently called the "downtown" district, but also includes Douglas Island, Petersburg, Gustavus, Tenakee and Skagway. It is one of the state's most solidly Democratic legislative districts.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com