Walker names Gruenberg replacement

Gov. Bill Walker has named Salvation Army development director Ivy Spohnholz the replacement for Max Gruenberg, the Anchorage Democrat who died in Juneau earlier this legislative session.

Walker selected Spohnholz from a short list of three candidates nominated by Anchorage Democrats. The governor’s choice of Spohnholz must be confirmed by a vote of House Democrats, and House Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said he expects that vote to take place later today or early tomorrow.

“I suspect it will be pretty quick,” he said Tuesday morning.

“I’m on the roller coaster now,” Spohnholz said when reached by phone in Anchorage.

She said she was notified of the governor’s pick with a surprise phone call from Walker on Monday night. She said she will caucus with the House minority and does expect to run for re-election in the fall.

In a prepared statement sent to reporters at 9 a.m., Walker said “Ivy’s experience — both personally and professionally — is what the state needs right now. She’s a third-generation Alaskan with a heart for the youngest and most vulnerable among us. I know she will keep the state’s future in mind as we work to achieve a balanced and sustainable budget.”

Spohnholz is vice chairwoman of the Alaska Children’s Trust and has lived in Anchorage for more than 35 years. She is married with three children, all of whom are in high school.

She was selected over the two other options: Kendra Kloster, a legislative staffer for Tuck; and Taylor Brelsford, an environmental scientist.

Spohnholz has advanced through the process more quickly than normal: According to the rules of the Alaska Democratic Party, options to fill a vacancy must be provided within 21 days. According to state law, the governor must pick within 30 days of receiving that list of options. There’s about a week remaining to that deadline.

“It’s especially important (to act quickly) because we’re in session,” Tuck said. “The sooner we can get someone, the better.”

In 2014, Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, was appointed to fill the seat left empty by Beth Kerttula. Asked to offer his advice to Spohnholz, based on his experience, “I guess I would say to try not to get overwhelmed,” he said. “I think one of the things I’m still working on — and every one of us does — is making sure there’s adequate time to take care of our own lives and not let the Legislature take over everything, which it has a tendency to want to do.”

Kito said he hasn’t yet met Spohnholz, but “I think she’s going to be a great addition to the caucus.”

Spohnholz has never served in public office before but says she has been doing community service her entire life.

“I’d always considered the possibility of public service, just not at this time,” she said.

When Gruenberg suddenly died, her mind changed.

“When considering the stakes right now for the state of Alaska, I felt it was a really important time for someone with a real commitment,” she said.

She said it’s too early to set concrete goals for her term in office; her first priority is “get up to speed as quickly as possible.”

“I think that as a member of the minority, I don’t have any grand illusions about my influence as one legislator, but I hope to influence the conversation,” she said. “We need to have a conversation about what kind of Alaska we want to have; what kind of Alaska we want to be in the future.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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