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We Build Alaska

Everything you need to know about the vacant Chris Birch Senate seat appointment process

Vacancies in the Legislature don’t happen too often. The definition of vacancy is “death, resignation, impeachment, recall and so on.” The most common cause of a vacancy is a resignation. But there is now a vacancy in Senate District M after the sudden and tragic passing of Senator Chris Birch two weeks ago.

Past Senate Vacancies

The last Senate vacancy was in January 2018 when then Senator Mike Dunleavy resigned to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. More on that later. In the last twenty years there have been a total of six vacancies in the Senate, not including Chris Birch’s seat. This Legislative Research document lists the history of vacancies in the Legislature.

Some of the notable vacancies were:

  • In 2009, then Senator Gene Therriault resigned to take a job with then Governor Sean Parnell. It got real loose after that for Therriault. Parnell appointed then Representative John Coghill to fill that seat. Also in 2009, former Senator Kim Elton resigned to take a position in the Obama administration. Former Governor Sarah Palin appointed Dennis Egan to fill that seat.
  • In 2004, then Senator Scott Ogan resigned because of a conflict of interest. Murkowski appointed Charlie Huggins to fill the seat. In 2003, former Senator Robin Taylor resigned to take a position with the Murkowski administration. Murkowski appointed Bert Stedman to fill that seat. Then Senator Alan Austerman also resigned in 2003 to take a position with the Murkowski administration. Murkowski appointed then Representative Gary Stevens to fill that seat. (Damn, Murkowski appointed three people to the Senate!)

The last Senator to die while in office was Betty Fahrenkamp, who passed away in 1991.

Article II, Section 4 of the Alaska Constitution states:

A vacancy in the legislature shall be filled for the unexpired term as provided by law. If no provision is made, the governor shall fill the vacancy by appointment.

Here is some interesting history on that:

The filling of Senate vacancies may trigger a special election. Alaska Statute 15.40.320, Condition and time for filling vacancy by appointment, states:

When a vacancy occurs in the state legislature, the governor, within 30 days, shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy. However, if the remainder of the term of the predecessor in office will expire or if a vacancy in the state senate will be filled by a special election before the legislature will next meet, convene, or reconvene, the governor may not fill the vacancy.

Alaska Statute 15.40.370, Conditions for full, unexpired term senate appointment, states:

If the vacancy is for an unexpired senate term of two years plus five full calendar months or less, the appointment shall be for the remainder of the unexpired term.

Alaska Statute 15.40.390, Date of special election, states:

The special election to fill a vacancy in the state senate shall be held on the date of the first general election held more than three full calendar months after the senate vacancy occurs.

Because Chris Birch was only elected last year, a special election will be held in November 2020 to fill his seat. So the appointment to fill his seat will only be until next year. I do not believe any of the Senate vacancies in the last 20 years triggered a special election.

District M Vacancy

In January 2018, Republicans in District 9 and 10 met to decide on names to send to then Governor Walker to replace Dunleavy. That was VERY loose. Trust me, I was there. Here is an article I wrote about the situation:

Republicans Choose Three Names for Gov. Walker to Fill Dunleavy Seat

Walker ended up choosing someone who was not among the three names sent to him by Republicans! Also very loose. That did not work out well. This Landmine article talks about that.

Eleven people ended up applying to fill Dunleavy’s seat. Funny enough, the guy who was eventually appointed and confirmed, Senator Mike Shower, was not even among the original 11 names.

The meeting to fill Dunleavy’s seat was wild. It took hours to get the list down to three names. Alaska Republican Party (ARP) rules state that if the two House districts cannot agree on three names then each district will send the governor two names, totaling four names. They eventually agreed to cut the 11 names down to five, and then vote on those to get down to three. The whole thing was very disorganized.

The ARP seemed to have learned nothing from that experience. It is unclear how they will select the names to send to Dunleavy to choose from to replace Chris Birch. I attempted to contact party officials with several questions. I was told, “The Alaska Republican Party has no comment on the process to fill the vacancy in Senate Seat M.” Read that again. Other members of the media have expressed frustration to me about the lack of information from the ARP. The ARP is either unwilling to share basic information about how an Alaska State Senator will be chosen, or they actually don’t know.

The deadline to submit an application to the APR for the vacant seat was on Sunday. At that point, it was known that six people had applied. However, the next day I learned that two more people had applied. But no one from the Party would say who they were. So bizarre. The Party is essentially acting as a state actor during this process. They should be up front and transparent. I eventually figured it out who the two mystery applicants were. Here are the eight applicants:

  1. Representative Laddie Shaw (R – Anchorage). Shaw was elected to the House last year (District 26). He defeated Albert Fogle and Joe Riggs in the Republican primary and went on to defeat Anita Thorne in the general. Shaw is a former Navy Seal who served in Vietnam. He previously worked as an Alaska State Trooper Academy instructor. He is known for his high energy and paragliding in Anchorage and Juneau.
  2. Representative Josh Revak (R – Anchorage). Revak was also elected to the House last year (District 25). He defeated Charisse Millett in the Republican primary and then went on to defeat Pat Higgins in the general. Full disclosure: I chaired an independent expenditure group that supported Revak. He has gotten off to a rough start in the House. He previously worked for Congressman Don Young (R – Alaska) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R – Alaska). He served two tours in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart.
  3. Dave Donley. Donley previously served in the Alaska Legislature from 1987-2003. He was in the House from 1987-1993 and the Senate from 1993-2003. He was defeated by Hollis French in 2002. He has still not gotten over it. He has been trying to get back to the Senate ever since. Donley is also a double dipper triple dipper. He currently works as a Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Administration, at a salary of $154,176 per year! He is also on the Anchorage School Board, where he draws a salary of $21,476. He refused to resign when he got the job as deputy commissioner. He was previously a lobbyist. One of his clients was Hope Community Resources, at a fee of $60,000/year. You can’t be a lobbyist and work for the government. So, Dave’s wife, Jamie Donley, registered as a lobbyist and got a client. You can guess who. Hope Community Resources, but at the discounted price of $25,000 a year. He also happens to be Tier 1 – the Cadillac of pension plans in Alaska. What a deal! Dave “triple dip” Donley sounds just like the kind of person we need in Juneau. He switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican in 1997.
  4. Albert Fogle. Fogle unsuccessfully ran in the District 26 Republican primary last year and before that for the Anchorage Assembly. He currently works as a sales executive for Moda Health. He previously worked for the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce and RISQ Consulting. He also served in Iraq.
  5. Tali Birch Kindred. Birch Kindred is Chris Birch’s daughter and lives in District 25. She’s a lawyer who works for Oil Search. She previously worked for an Anchorage law firm and before that as an Anchorage prosecutor.
  6. Lisa Sauder. Sauder has been the executive director at Bean’s Cafe since 2013. Prior to that she served as the Alaska director for the American Heart Association.
  7. Mike Robbins. Mystery applicant number one. Robbins is the Republican chair for District 26. He has a long history working in radio and communications. He was the campaign manager for Mead Treadwell’s campaign for governor last year. Dunleavy defeated Treadwell in the Republican primary. I’m sure Dunleavy will seriously consider him! He was also the field director for Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alaska.
  8. Anne Helzer. Helzer is an Anchorage attorney. She also happens to be the chair of the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC). So bizarre. She was appointed to APOC in 2017 by former Governor Bill Walker. She is also the president of the Anchorage Bar Association.

As I said above, it is unclear how the two districts will decide on three names to send to Dunleavy, or if they can’t agree on three, how each one will decide on two names to send. It has also been difficult to find out who the members of each District Committee are. The ARP used to list this information on their website but they don’t anymore. They only list the chairs now. But don’t worry, the Alaska Landmine has got you. I was able to get a list of the members of each District.

District 25

  1. Chair – Akis Gialopsos (works for Senator Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage))
  2. Vice-Chair – Misty Steed
  3. Secretary – Kelly Millen
  4. Asst. Secretary – Shiela Cernich
  5. Treasurer – Grover Johnson
  6. Asst. Treasurer – Vacant
  7. Bonus Vote – Dave Donley
  8. House Rep. – Josh Revk
  9. Precinct 840: E Dowling 1 – Vacant
  10. Precinct 845: Elmore 1 – Anastasia Gialopsos
  11. Precinct 850: Abbott 1 – Vacant
  12. Precinct 855: Lore 1 – Jamie Donley (Wife of Dave Donley)
  13. Precinct 860 Lore 2 – Vacant
  14. Precinct 865 Abbott 2 – Jeff Turner (Works for Governor Dunleavy)
  15. Precinct 870: E Dowling 2 – Kari Nore (works for Senator Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage))

District 26

  1. Chair – Mike Robbins
  2. Vice-Chair – Mike Dagon
  3. Secretary – Mara Biegel
  4. Asst. Secretary – Vacant
  5. Treasurer – Matt Barth
  6. Asst. Treasurer – Laura Dagon
  7. Bonus Vote – Paula Harrison
  8. House Rep. – Laddie Shaw
  9. Precinct 800: Ind Prk 1 – Vacant
  10. Precinct 805: O’Malley 1 – Vacant
  11. Precinct 810: Huffman 3 – Vacant
  12. Precinct 815: Huffman 4 – Dirk Craft
  13. Precinct 820: O’Malley 2 – Glen Biegel
  14. Precinct 825 Ind Prk 2 – Vacant
  15. Precinct 830: Elmore 2 – Andy Clary (Father, Glen Clary is ARP Chairman)
  16. Precinct 835: O’Malley 3 – Vacant

As you can see, a real who’s who of Republicans. Of the 21 people who can vote, four have filed for the vacant seat, one is the wife of one of the people who filed for the seat, two work for Republican legislators, and one works for Governor Dunleavy. Talk about loose! Will the four district members who can vote (Shaw, Revak, Donley, Robbins) and the wife of Donley (Jamie Donley) recuse themselves in the selection process? The rules do not prevent them from doing so.

The two districts will meet tonight at 7 pm to try and figure out which names to send to Dunleavy. Once Dunleavy selects someone (technically he doesn’t have to choose from that list, only someone in the district who is qualified) then the 12 Senate Republicans will have to vote to confirm the person. So seven votes are needed. As stated above, when Walker chose off-list, Senate Republicans rejected the name. The 12 Republicans are divided 6/6 on the PFD issue. Depending who Dunleavy chooses, this could get real messy.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Dirk Craft works for Rep. Pruitt. This Dirk Craft is his father. It also has been updated to reflect that Kari Nore works for Sen. Giessel. 

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