Alaska Statute 44.19.040 requires the appointment of a successor to the lieutenant governor, in the event of that office becoming vacant. Further, the statute recommends (but does not require) that this appointment be made from among the leaders of the “principal departments” of Alaska state government, and is subject to joint legislative confirmation. Also, according to the statute the second-in-line designee serves at the pleasure of the governor, and if the spot is vacated the designated replacement shall be confirmed in the same manner as their predecessor. Simple enough? Well, during the summer of 2009 in Alaska, it wasn’t so simple.

As 2009 dawned, the designated successor to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell was Attorney General Talis Colberg. Colberg, in his capacity as AG, certainly did fit the wishes of those who drafted the statute requiring a successor to the lieutenant governor, since the Alaska Department of Law is one of the state’s cabinet agencies. Mr. Colberg, though, resigned his office in February of 2009, at which time Governor Palin appointed another cabinet member, Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt to the designated successor position behind Parnell (Anchorage Daily News, 2/27/2009).

In July 2009, Governor Palin announced her intention to step down from office, thus triggering the succession of Parnell to the governor’s chair. However, in her resignation message, she indicated that General Craig Campbell, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would assume the duties of lieutenant governor once Parnell was elevated.  This announcement stunned and confused state legislative leaders who had voted to confirm Schmidt, and left them unsure how to proceed (Juneau Empire, 7/9/2009).  Thus, for guidance in how to resolve the sticky wicket of who was to become lieutenant governor, the legislature turned to the state attorney general.

In his opinion, the attorney general noted the clash between the succession statute and the power of recess appointments given to the governor. First, Article 3, Section 27 of the Alaska Constitution indicated that the governor may make recess appointments (as occurred here, during a legislative break), and that Alaska Statute 39.05.080 “reinforces this authority by providing that such recess appointees hold their offices with full authority pending confirmation…these constitutional and statutory provisions give the governor the authority necessary to keep the executive branch functioning fully when critical vacancies occur and the legislature is not in session” (Alaska Attorney General Daniel Sullivan, 7/10/2009).  Further, the attorney general pointed out that there are two additional statutes that appear to indicate an immediate succession to lieutenant governor, without the need for immediate (or perhaps any) confirmation. Thus, the dilemma facing the attorney general was how to find some type of compromise between these differing statutes so that Alaska would continue to have a functioning lieutenant governor and a legislature satisfied that their concerns regarding confirmation had been addressed.  How the attorney general ended up resolving this situation will be the topic of the next post in this series.