JUNEAU – Gov. Sarah Palin said late Thursday she is refusing to accept the Alaska Senate Democrats’ rejection of Tim Grussendorf as her appointee to the state Senate.Palin said the rejection isn’t legally valid because it happened behind closed doors, and only among Democrats.
“We don’t believe that a closed door meeting of just a partisan group says yea or nay to the governor’s choice,” Palin said in an interview on Thursday night. “We believe based on a 1987 opinion of department of law, it needs to take place out in the open with a larger body than just the partisan participants.”
“I believe my selection of Tim Grussendorf is legitimate and it stands until they take that vote in an open, public forum with more than just the partisan participants,” Palin said.
Palin cited a 1987 legal opinion that challenges the constitutionality of the state law that sets out how lawmakers should confirm an appointee to an open legislative seat. Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, reached Thursday night, was surprised to find out that Palin was disputing the legality.
“What is she trying to do, sue us?” asked French, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State law doesn’t say exactly how a governor’s appointee to an open legislative seat should be confirmed. It says the person “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.”
Palin appointed Grussendorf to fill the seat that opened when Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton resigned for a job in the Obama administration. Since Elton was a Democrat, the nine Senate Democrats decided whether to seat Grussendorf. They rejected him in a closed door meeting held on Wednesday.
The legal opinion from 1987 said “the confirmation procedure set out in existing law appears to conflict with the Alaska Constitution.” The Constitution says that it’s up to the Senate to decide the qualifications of its members, the legal opinion says – not just the senators who represent a particular party.
The opinion also says that an appointee can only be confirmed at a formal session of the Senate, not at a closed door meeting of some senators, Palin argues.
French said the Legislature’s lawyer wasn’t persuaded by the 1987 opinion. He also said Palin didn’t raise the objection when the state House confirmed her appointment of Republican Wes Keller. It would also throw into question the appointments of several other lawmakers who are currently serving, he said.
“In the absence of some higher legal authority what we really have is a governor who is unhappy with the outcome and is going to deny Juneau the opportunity to be represented through the end of the (legislative) session,” French said.
Palin, who has a new attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross, said she doesn’t know if it’s true that legislators have always confirmed appointees this way.
“Maybe (legislators) just haven’t been reminded of what the legal opinion is on the rejection or acceptance of a replacement. That was drawn to our attention by the department of law and we just want to remind lawmakers that opinion still stands, nothing has ever trumped it or changed the opinion,” she said.
Palin said she’s asking the full state Senate to now vote in public on Grussendorf’s confirmation.
Meanwhile, Juneau Democratic Party officials on Thursday gave the governor’s office a list of three suggested new names to choose from in filling the seat.
State Rep. Beth Kerttula is still the Juneau Democrats’ favorite to get the job, but Palin didn’t choose Kerttula when the Democrats earlier forwarded only her name to the governor.
“If you ask any of the three people whose names are on that list, they would say their first choice is Beth Kerttula, but they’re stepping forward to get us past this,” said Rich Listowski, a state Democratic Central Committee member from Juneau.
The names other than Kerttula submitted Thursday by the Juneau Democrats are Jeff Bush, a member of the local Juneau city Assembly; Mike Miller, a Juneau legislator until 1985; and Sally Smith, a Fairbanks legislator until 1982 and former mayor of Juneau. The Juneau Democrats said they chose the three because they’ve been active in the party and have held office in the area.