A Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman may be making a move up the ladder to the Alaska Legislature.

Friday, Governor Bill Walker appointed Randall Kowalke, of Willow, to represent District E in the Alaska Senate. The seat was left vacant by Mike Dunleavy (R), who resigned to follow gubernatorial ambitions. 

Kowalke has served with the Mat-Su Borough Assembly since 2015; his district covered Meadow Lakes, Talkeetna, Trapper Creek and Willow. 

Gov. Walker's office points out that Kowalke is a retired businessman who worked in oilfield services and telecommunications. He's also is a former director of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance and a board member of the Resource Development Council, according to the Governor's Office.

“Randall is the best person to represent this district,” Governor Walker said in a statement Friday. “He brings a wealth of perspective to the Senate at this critical moment in Alaska’s history, and will do an excellent job representing the values of the people of Senate District E.”

Kowalke, who was not one of the three names given to the Governor for consideration, must still be confirmed by the Senate Republicans.

Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) responded to Kowalke's appointment by saying, "While we recognize a fine choice by the governor in Mr. Kowalke, we would prefer the governor work through the traditional process involving local participation from the districts. The Senate Republicans will meet next week to discuss the governor’s appointment.”

Rep. George Rauscher (R-Sutton), who was one of the candidates sent to Walker for consideration, said, "I would like to congratulate Randall Kowalke on his appointment by Governor Walker. My office is always open and I am interested in hearing his vision for my district."

“Governor Walker has made his choice – and he chose to ignore the elected nominees of the Republican District leaders.  His decision is an affront to these men and women who literally spent hundreds of hours vetting 11 different applicants for this seat,” said Dunleavy. "The crucial question is this: Who owns this seat, the voters of District E, or Governor Walker? The Governor has chosen to substitute his own judgment for the views of local leaders.  This kind of arrogance has become a trademark of this Governor, and it gravely erodes public confidence that their representative in Juneau is there to represent their values, instead of the Governor’s personal agenda.  Once again, Governor Walker ignores the will of the people."

Senators David Wilson and Shelley Hughes, who both serve the Valley, released a joint statement expressing their disappointment with Walker's decision to "circumvent the traditional process and the people for choosing replacements for vacant seats".

"The Republicans from Senate District E utilized a fair, thorough process for selecting three names to submit to the governor," the statement reads. "When he decided against these names, the governor should have gone back to the people of District E for additional names rather than launching out on his own."

Senator Shelley Hughes stated, “Although under the law, the governor can go off-list and choose whomever he desires, the question is, should he have? Should he have sidestepped the people? I believe not. I don’t believe the governor knows better than the people who can best represent them.”

“Picking someone not on the original list shows how little regard Governor Walker has for the people of Mat-Su. He believes he knows best when it comes to picking their representatives in the legislature,” Senator Wilson said.

Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said in a statement Friday evening, "The Governor has inexplicably chosen to ignore the three nominations forwarded by the Alaska Republican Party (ARP) with respect to the vacancy in Senate District E."

"I am absolutely confident the Republican members of the Alaska State Senate will reject the Governor's high-handed, arrogant action," he said.

A spokesman for Governor Walker emphasized that nothing in state law requires him to choose any of the candidates forwarded by the party, saying that it is more important to choose the person he believes is the right person for the job instead of following the traditional method of previous governors. He said the governor interviewed seven candidates, all of them Republican. The first three were those district leaders submitted for selection. In the end Kowalke’s experience and background in the governor’s opinion made him the most qualified.

Scott Jensen contributed to this report.

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