Diary

Grussendorf Appointment -- Governor Palin's Battle with the AK State Legislature

On Sunday, March 29, 2009 Alaska Governor Sarah Palin appointed Tim Grussendorf to replace State Senator (District B) Kim Elton. The full story on the original appointment is here: http://sarahs-accomplishments.blogspot.com/2009/03/general-information-package-governor_29.html“. As noted in the original story, the AK state Democrats sent Governor Palin one name for consideration. She had additionally received numerous unsolicited applications and put out a call for more. The appointment was chosen from one of those two batches and sent to the state Senate for confirmation.

The state Senate declined to nominate Grussendorf in a private vote. On April 3, 2009, the Governor issued a call for a an open vote.

“My primary objective is to respectfully request the Senate to take this matter up and vote on it in public session,” Governor Palin said. “The Alaska people and particularly the people of Juneau deserve a public vote on this. While the long-standing opinion of the Department of Law is that confirmation by a minority of the Senate potentially has constitutional problems, I recognize that the caucuses in the legislature prefer not to have a vote by the entire chamber. The Senate can decide for itself who participates in the vote. I am simply requesting that the vote be done in public” (Vote, 2009, ¶2).

“The opinions of the Department of Law have been on the books for decades,” Attorney General Wayne Anthony Ross said. “I believe the legislature and the people have a right to know that there are legitimate legal concerns with the manner in which the Senate Democrats acted on the appointment of Mr. Grussendorf” (Vote, 2009, ¶3).

But, the legislature has no intention of doing this open vote. Left unresolved, the matter could escalate into a court battle in which either side could sue (Cockerham, 2009, ¶1-2). The state Democrats have dug in saying, “Democratic senators maintain that they’ve lawfully rejected Grussendorf and that [Governor] Palin must name another appointee within eight days”(Cockerham, 2009, ¶7).

“We’ll be waiting for that appointment,” said Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski. “And if that appointment doesn’t come, that will be (a) breach of the law” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶8).

The crux of the battle right now is a 1987 legal opinion which “challenges the constitutionality of the state law that sets out how lawmakers should confirm a governor’s appointee to an open legislative seat” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶14).

“The law says the appointee ‘shall be a member of the same political party as that which nominated the predecessor in office, and shall be subject to confirmation by a majority of the members of the legislature who are members of the same political party which nominated the predecessor in office and of the same house as was the predecessor in office'” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶15)

Under the state law, the nine Democrats declined to seat Grussendorf in a closed-door meeting (Cockerham, 2009, ¶16).

“The 1987 legal opinion said the Constitution says that it’s up to the Senate to decide the qualifications of its members, not just the senators who represent a particular party” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶17).

“The opinion also said that an appointee can be confirmed only at a formal session of the Senate, not at a closed-door meeting of senators from one party, [Governor] Palin said” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶18).

Commentary

The ultimate outcome of this appointment remains to be seen. The root of the problem appears to be a state law and a conflicting legal opinion on that law. As delineated above, the law states that a gubernatorial appointment must be in the same party as the predecessor, and confirmed by a majority of the members of that party, and of the same house (State Senate or State House of Representatives). The legal opinion states that the entire Senate must be involved; however, Governor Palin said she is not asking for that — only for a public vote.

From the beginning, the State Democrats have tried to foist their choice on Governor Palin by giving her only one appointee to choose from. That is the root of the battle right here. As an executive, the Governor made her own decision, which is her prerogative. But, of course the Senate can decline her appointment. That’s how checks and balances work.

Regardless of the final outcome, which will be followed here, of course, the Governor was correct in refusing to allow anyone to foist their choice of appointment upon her.

References

Cockerham, S. (2009, April 4). Legislators refuse Palin’s demand for public vote. Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved April 4, 2009 from: http://www.adn.com/news/politics/story/747513.html

Governor requests public vote on Senate District B. (2009, April 3). State of Alaska, Governor. Retrieved April 4, 2009 from: http://www.gov.state.ak.us/news.php?id=1737