AK Governor Sarah Palin Submits New Name for State Senate Appoinment

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin nominated University of Alaska Southeast Admissions Director Joe Nelson to the District B State Senate Seat on April 6, 2009. The Governor withdrew her original nomination of Tim Grussendorf following a battle with the Alaska state Democrats, who declined his appointment in a closed vote (Cockerham, 2009, ¶1). The Governor had requested an open vote, but the state Democrats refused. The state Democrats forwarded four names to the Governor to choose from; Nelson was not among them (Cockerham, 2009, ¶2)

“Nelson is a board member of Sealaska, the Southeast Alaska Native Corp. He is married to Mary Nelson, who used to represent Bethel as a Democrat in the state House and took a job last year as community sustainability manager for the proposed Donlin Creek Gold Mine in Western Alaska, commuting to the position from their home in Juneau” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶5)

Joe Nelson is a former assistant city attorney in Juneau and used to be a commercial fisherman in Yakutat, where he graduated from high school in 1988 and attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶6)

The four names submitted to the Governor were: Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, who was the original single name submitted to the Governor (Cockerham, 2009, ¶10); “Jeff Bush, a local Assembly member, Mike Miller, a Juneau legislator until 1985, and Sally Smith, a Fairbanks legislator until 1982 and former mayor of Juneau” (Cockerham, 2009, ¶11). As noted in previous coverage, “[i]t’s been tradition for a governor to select from among party recommendations, but after the Democrats originally submitted only Kerttula’s name, [Governor] Palin opened the process to other applicants. “I am not limited by law to the recommendations of one interest group,” she said (Cockerham, 2009, ¶11). Kerttula had been one of Governor Palin’s critics, and her original nominee, Tim Grussendorf was more conservative (Cockerham, 2009, ¶10).

On Saturday April 4, 2009, an update was issued on the status of the Tim Grussendorf nomination to replace Kim Ellis who took a patronage job in the Obama administration. That update is available here: http://sarahs-accomplishments.blogspot.com/2009/04/grussendorf-appointment-governor-palins.html The complete story on the original appointment is here: http://sarahs-accomplishments.blogspot.com/2009/03/general-information-package-governor_29.html“.


Though it is traditional for an Alaska Governor to select state Senate replacements from a list of party replacements, there is no legal obligation to do so as delineated above. The state Democrats clearly tried to foist Kerttulla — who was probably no friend of the Governor’s — on her by submitting only that name. This was a clear provocation and a power play. It was not until the conclusion of the Grussendorf battle that the state Democrats submitted three additional names for her consideration. Had they submitted the four names in the first instance, maybe Governor Palin might have chosen her nominee from among that batch. Governor Palin still might have exercised her prerogative to call for nominees, but giving her the professional courtesy of making a choice from a group would have been the better way to go.

Yes, Governor Palin lost the battle for Tim Grussendorf, but she has not lost the war for choosing the State Senator. The outcome of this nomination remains to be seen; the state Democrats have to vote on it just like the last time. Then, there is the thorny question of whether this will be a closed or open vote, the law and legal opinion on which was discussed at length in the April 4, 2009 update.

If nothing else, this nomination should be instructive on how politics is very much like a chess game with each side trying to out-maneuver the other to capture the queen and checkmate the king. Governor Palin is a seasoned executive with considerable political acumen and a well-honed hunter’s instinct, the protestations of her critics notwithstanding. Ultimately, this nominee will either be confirmed or there will be a third round, maybe even a fourth. However many rounds it takes, Governor Palin is making absolutely clear that no one is going to force her hand or foist any nominee upon her.


Cockerham, S. (2009, April 6). State of Alaska, Governor. Retrieved April 8, 2009 from: http://www.adn.com/news/government/legislature/story/750807.html