Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Wastes Little Time In Selecting Wes Keller To Replace Vic Kohring As House District 14 Representative

In a press release issued on July 17th, 2007, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced her slection of Wes Keller to replace Vic Kohring as the representative for House District 14, which encompasses the Greater Wasilla area. Full story published in the Anchorage Daily News. An additional report aired on KTUU Channel 2 last night.

Governor Palin made her selection only four days after the District 14 Republican Committee forwarded the names of Keller, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, and Darroll Hargraves to the governor for her consideration. It was widely speculated that Governor Palin would show respect for the process by selecting one of the three names rather than proposing a different name, and she followed through.

Keller's selection may seem odd to some since he has spent the past eight years working as a staffer for State Senator Fred Dyson, who represents Eagle River. However, Keller has remained a resident of Wasilla for 20 years, and his three children graduated from Palmer and Colony high schools. He has also worked as a teacher, building contractor, oil-field hand and pilot in the Alaska National Guard.

Governor Palin said she picked him only to finish out Kohring's term representing District 14, with the understanding that the position will again be a "free-for-all" to candidates vying for the seat next year. She emphasized the need for experience, integrity, and to clean up the legislature. As a legislative staffer, Keller has a more current understanding of legislative procedures than the two unsuccessful candidates.

In addition, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard not only runs the governor's Mat-Su office, but she's also married to one of Palin's deputy commissioners, so perhaps Governor Palin not only did not want to lose Sullivan-Leonard's experience running her Mat-Su office, but also may have been concerned about the appearance of nepotism.

However, Keller's appointment must be approved by a majority of House Republicans the next time the Legislature meets. This could be as early as a tentative special session envisioned for sometime this autumn. The outgoing Vic Kohring leaves the legislature this Thursday (July 19th) to concentrate full time on defending himself against Federal charges of bribery and extortion. Kohring's trial is scheduled to being in October.

Keller's former boss, Senator Dyson, who wishes Keller well, is a well-known social conservative who has vigorously defended tradional marriage and pre-born human life, so Keller himself can also be expected to be a social conservative. Keller also favors local control and "smarter state spending". He also lives with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which he keeps under control and has no bearing on his ability to do the job. Ironically, his wife, Gayle, continues on as Senator Dyson's office manager.

Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage), considered part of the marginal "socialist" wing of the Alaska Democratic Party, expressed guarded optimism. "Wes has always been a gentleman to me, and I think that bodes well," Gara said. Rep. Gara has stirred up some controversy by a recent proposal to make it more difficult for those who are "mentally ill" to get a gun permit. This interest was triggered by the Virginia Tech massacre. To be fair, Gara's intent is only to prevent those who are currently mentally ill from possessing firearms, and his proposed legislation would allow them to exercise their Second Amendment rights once certified as recovered by competent medical authority, but there is a danger of political dissidents being classified in this country as being "mentally ill", the way it was done in the old Soviet Union. Case in point: Martin Lindstedt.

Republican lawmaker reaction was more enthusiastic. Nancy Dahlstrom (R-Eagle River) said, "He's been fantastic to work with, very easy person. He's a listener and I know him to be a man of reason". Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak) said, "He's intelligent, unquestionable integrity. I think he'll exercise good judgment. I'm glad he's part of the new Valley delegation".

And House Majority Leader Ralph Samuels said Keller's experience gives him an advantage. "He knows the process. Coming in mid-term, it would be difficult if you weren't familiar with the legislative process at all," said Samuels (R-Anchorage).

Other reaction to Governor Palin's decision is posted on ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins' Alaska Politics blog.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to correct a reference you made to the Illegal Gun Sales story that ran in the Daily news. The news story headline was a bit misleading. But 2 corrections are in order.

    1) We only want to comply with federal law on gun sales - not create a new law. Virginia didn't comply with federal law before the Virginia Tech shooting, which led to the illegal gun sales to the shooter in that case. Alaska also isn't complying with federal law.

    No one wants to broadly ban sales to people who suffer mental illness. The federal ban is on a small class of people who are not only battling mental illness, but are also ruled by treatment authorities and the courts to be an immediate "danger" to the public or themselves.

    I understand how you might have thought the federal ban was broader, and applied to all people with mental illness, but it's quite narrow.

    Secondly, some have interpreted the Daily News story to mean we want a "public list" of names of people with mental health problems. That's inaccurate. Those battling mental health problems should never have their names released to the public, or their privacy compromised by any sort of public listing.

    Rather, we've only suggested that Alaska comply with the federal law, wihich requires that states forward the names of people disqualfied from gun purchases to a confidential federal database, so when gun dealers call the FBI to see if they can make a gun sale, the FBI can look at a complete list of persons prohibited from making gun purchases and answer yes or no.

    Thanks. Best, Les Gara

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