- Associated Press - Thursday, January 25, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A vice president of an Alaska Native regional corporation has been appointed to the western Alaska House seat left vacant by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake.

Gov. Bill Walker late Wednesday appointed John Lincoln of Kotzebue to replace Westlake, who resigned last month after being accused by female aides of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments.

Lincoln’s appointment is subject to confirmation by House Democrats.

State law calls for legislative vacancies to be filled within 30 days; Wednesday was the deadline. The individual chosen must be from the same political party as their predecessor.

Tradition holds that party officials from the district where the vacancy exists provide a list of finalists to the governor for consideration. Lincoln’s name was not on an initial short list sent to Walker from Democrats in House District 40.

Austin Baird, a spokesman for Walker, said after some conversations with district party leaders, it “became clear” residents wanted additional candidates to be considered.

Lincoln was one of two additional candidates to come forward and district Democrats wanted them to be considered, Baird said.

He said there were concerns with the initial three finalists - Leanna Mack, Sandy Shroyer-Beaver and Eugene Smith - but declined to elaborate.

In a statement, Walker said that like local party officials, “I set out to identify the person who is best prepared to lead at this pivotal moment in Alaska’s history.”

Jane Winzer, chairwoman of the House District 40 Democrats, said the impression she got was that Walker didn’t want to appoint someone who couldn’t be confirmed. As she understood it, there was a bloc of people who favored Shroyer-Beaver and one who supported Smith and no clear choice emerged, she said. The “strike” some cited against Mack was inexperience, she said.

Lincoln and Abel Hopson-Suvlu later expressed interest in seeking the seat and their names were shared with Walker, she said. Hopson-Suvlu was on the district’s initial selection committee, while Lincoln had a recent death in the family and people didn’t feel comfortable trying to recruit him when the vacancy first emerged, she said.

Lincoln is a vice president with NANA Regional Corporation. According to a bio provided by the governor’s office, Lincoln earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and is a private pilot who has worked as an EMT for the Kotzebue Volunteer Fire Department.

In 2009, Gov. Sarah Palin refused to appoint Beth Kerttula to an empty Senate seat after Democrats submitted just Kerttula’s name. Senate Democrats refused several Palin picks before the two sides agreed on Dennis Egan, who is still serving.

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