- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Gov. Bill Walker on Monday announced Valerie Davidson as the new state health commissioner, calling her knowledgeable and passionate about expanding Medicaid in Alaska.

The announcement came during a news conference shortly after Walker was sworn in as governor.

Other appointments announced Monday include Sam Cotten, a former state legislator, as acting Fish and Game commissioner and Marty Rutherford as a deputy Natural Resources commissioner.

Walker campaigned on expanding Medicaid coverage, something his predecessor, Republican Sean Parnell, resisted despite broad-based support, citing cost concerns.

During his inaugural address, Walker said he would immediately “begin the wheels in motion” to accepting expanded Medicaid, drawing cheers from the audience. In states that have opted for expansion, the federal government is expected to cover the cost through 2016 and the bulk of the cost indefinitely, with the states contributing.

He told reporters that Davidson’s appointment was a big first step toward Alaska accepting expanded Medicaid coverage. He said the administration would move as aggressively as possible in expanding coverage.

Davidson has long been involved in Native health issues and most recently served as senior director of legal and intergovernmental affairs for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

She said Medicaid expansion would improve access to health care for more than 40,000 Alaskans.

Walker previously named his picks for attorney general and commissioners of Revenue, Natural Resources and Public Safety, with Public Safety Commissioner Gary Folger a holdover from Parnell’s administration.

The heads of most remaining departments are listed as acting commissioners, pending decisions on permanent appointments.

By law, the permanent Fish and Game appointment is to come from a list of individuals nominated in a joint meeting by the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game. The governor, however, has the right to request additional nominations.

New appointments are subject to legislative approval.

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