House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula will be resigning from her seat.
The Juneau Democrat has been chosen for an oceans policy fellowship at Stanford University, which begins this spring term. Kerttula made the formal announcement on Tuesday afternoon, during the first House floor session of the year.
“It’s really hard to leave this quickly,” said Kerttula. “It wasn’t the way I would have liked to do this. I know it’s going to cause some hardship, and it’s going to cause some hard feelings. My hope is that people will know that this seat will be filled by somebody incredibly capable. There’s a long line of people after 15 years.”
Her resignation is effective January 24, and she will start her fellowship in California on February 3.
The Democrats chose Rep. Chris Tuck of Anchorage as their new minority leader. He has previously served as the minority’s whip. Democrats are also expected to shuffle their committee assignments because of the vacancy, with Tuck leaving House Resources and Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks taking his spot.
Kerttula was first elected in 1998, and she has served as minority leader since 2006. During her time in the Legislature, she championed the now-defunct coastal management program and sponsored legislation curbing cruise ship pollution. She said the fellowship with the Center for Ocean Solutions fit in line with those interests.
“Oceans have been part of my life for a long time, from my work at the attorney general’s office to just living in coastal Alaska to being honored to sponsor the first cruise ship bill. And I’ve always had a special place in my heart for these issues,” said Kerttula at a press conference.
Juneau Democratic party officials will provide Gov. Sean Parnell with a list of nominees for Kerttula’s seat. Parnell then has 30 days to make an appointment.
The House Minority will only have nine members during the vacancy period, but they need 10 members to be officially recognized according to the Legislature’s internal rules. Official recognition means committee assignments, extra staff members, and money for travel.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said in an interview that the majority plans to keep the minority’s privileges in place, even though they are not obligated to.
“It’s my intention to still recognize them and still allow them to have their current seats on committees, knowing that hopefully in a short time the Democrats put someone forward that the governor can agree to that the Legislature can approve of. And they’ll be back to their ten,” said Chenault.
He reiterated those sentiments during a rare — and affectionate — bipartisan press conference, which concluded with the Speaker offering Kerttula a bag of goodies from his past campaigns.
This is the second Democrat the House Minority has lost during the 28th Legislature. Last January, Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage changed her party affiliation to Republican.