Republicans reject Gov. Bill Walker’s pick for vacant Alaska Senate seat

Randall Kowalke was in his church’s parking lot at 8:30 a.m. when he got a call from Gov. Bill Walker.

It wasn’t the call he was hoping for.

In a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning, Alaska Senate Republicans rejected Walker’s pick of Kowalke for a senate seat vacated by the resignation of Wasilla’s Mike Dunleavy.

“I went into the service, and I prayed for the governor, I prayed for the Senate, I prayed for the people of District E, and I prayed for Alaska,” Kowalke said of his reaction to the governor’s news.

Walker now has 10 days to name another candidate for the job. In the meantime, the Senate continues operating with 19 members.

State law and the Alaska Constitution give a sitting governor 30 days to select someone to fill a legislative vacancy. That person must then be confirmed by those of the same political party who are already in the appropriate Legislative house. The governor can select anyone who is of the same political party as the person being replaced, as long as they meet the constitutional qualifications for the job.

The Republican and Democratic parties in Alaska have come up with procedures to help the governor choose someone acceptable. Those procedures allow local Republicans and Democrats to select a short list of candidates. That list is then forwarded to the governor.

Kowalke, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assemblyman, wasn’t among the three nominees suggested to the governor by District E Republicans.

In a Tuesday letter to Gov. Bill Walker, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said they believe Walker is within his rights to turn down the district’s list of nominees, but they feel he should have gone back to the district’s Republicans to ask for more names.

Walker, in a reply letter of the same date, said he had made his decision and that Senate Republicans should vote upon his pick.

They did so the following morning, turning down Kowalke.

Kowalke had previously filed to run against Dunleavy in the fall 2018 elections. He said he needs “to take a deep breath and take a day or two and think about the pieces.”

He is no longer sure whether he will run for Senate in the fall.

“There would be no point in being sent to the dungeon without dinner,” he said.

Kelly, speaking to the Empire on Wednesday in the Capitol, said Kowalke shouldn’t have doubts about running for Senate. He reiterated that the sitting senators have no problem with Kowalke; their vote Wednesday morning was a referendum on the selection process, not of Kowalke’s fitness to serve in the Senate or as a member of the Republican Majority there.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.

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