- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Nine people have applied to fill the vacancy in the Alaska House left by last week’s resignation of Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat.

The list, released by the Tongass Democrats, includes Ken Alper, a former Kerttula aide who works as an oil and gas analyst for minority Democrats, and Jesse Kiehl, an aide to Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.

All the applicants live in Juneau, said Nancy Courtney, chair of the Tongass Democrats. While the district Kerttula was elected to included Juneau, Skagway, Gustavus, Tenakee Springs and Petersburg, it will change with redistricting. Bruce Botelho, who chairs the Democrats’ selection committee, said that’s likely why there were no applicants outside the capital city.

Kerttula stepped down as minority leader last week, on the session’s first day, and resigned last Friday to serve as visiting fellow with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. She had served in the House since 1999.

The other applicants for the seat are Nancy Barnes, a former legislative aide and current executive assistant to the president and CEO of Huna Totem Corp.; James Betts, who owns a local boat repair business; Sara Hannan, a school teacher; Sam Kito III, a civil engineer; Tim Lamkin, an aide to Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Kim Metcalfe, a business agent for the Alaska State Employees Association; and Catherine Reardon, an aide to Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage.

Both Barnes and Lamkin last week submitted registration forms changing their party affiliation from nonpartisan to Democrat, according to the Division of Elections. Both are now registered Democrats, division director Gail Fenumiai said by email.

Under the law, the governor is to appoint a qualified replacement within 30 days of a vacancy. The law states that the appointee shall be a member of the same political party as the predecessor and, in this case, would be subject to confirmation by a majority of House Democrats. The law further defines a member of a political party as someone “who supports the political program of a party.”

Lamkin said he has been nonpartisan for years, and as a legislative staffer has worked for members from both parties.

“It just came time to make a decision, if indeed I’m interested in running for office or being involved directly in the Legislature, I can’t do that if I’m going to remain on the face as a nonpartisan,” he said. “I had to pick a side, and it wasn’t difficult to choose Democrat.”

He said it was something he’d been thinking about for a long time but decided to take that step when he found out about Kerttula leaving.

Barnes did not immediately return telephone messages Tuesday.

Botelho said the timing of an applicant’s affiliation with the party will be a factor in evaluations but he said there are many other factors, too. He said a questionnaire given to applicants relates to a range of policy issues on topics like the economy, education, health and issues affecting organized labor.

Public interviews of applicants were planned for this weekend. The Tongass Democrats plan to send their list of three finalists to Gov. Sean Parnell for consideration by next Tuesday.

Botelho said the committee is ultimately looking for someone “who fits the mainstream of Democratic party principles” and is committed to running for the seat later this year.

“We do not see this appointment as a placeholder appointment, so another element is looking at electability,” he said.

Kerttula’s resignation left the minority Democrats with nine members, one shy of the number needed to be recognized as a formal minority for committee assignments. House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the majority would not mess with the makeup of committees pending the appointment of Kerttula’s replacement.

Currently, four Democrats from rural communities caucus with the majority Republicans.

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