Nome City Manager Josie Bahnke will take over as the head of Alaska’s Division of Elections, after Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott asked for and received the resignation of current Elections head Gail Fenumiai.
The Walker-Mallott administration was Fenumiai’s third as head of the state Division of Elections.
“There’s nothing personal in the request,” said Claire Richardson, a spokesperson with Mallott’s office. “The lieutenant governor would like to move in some new directions with the Division of Elections, and it was felt that it was time for different leadership.”
A veteran election official, Fenumiai has been director of elections since 2008, and has 10 years of earlier experience in the division. She didn’t return calls for comment Monday.
Bahnke will be moving to Juneau to take over the job come October; until then, election supervisor Lauri Wilson is acting director. Earlier this month Bahnke notified the Nome City Council she would not be renewing her contract for an eighth year at the helm of the city, a 90-day notice required by her work agreement.
Lisa Phu with KTOO in Juneau reports Richardson says the lieutenant governor has not worked closely with Fenumiai since he and Governor Bill Walker took office—but she said Mallott and Fenumiai have had several meetings about the Toyukak v. Mallott case, which is now in settlement negotiations related to language assistance and other related issues.
A federal judge ruled last year the state doesn’t do enough to serve voters who speak Alaska’s several Native languages.
Richardson said there was no particular issue that led to the request for Fenumiai’s resignation, but she added it’s the prerogative of the administration to bring in new people. That means being customer-service-oriented and “the ability for Alaskans to register and vote,” according to Richardson.
Born and raised in Nome, Bahnke said she was contacted by the lieutenant governor’s office sometime in the past month and has been going through a vetting process. She said it’ll be hard to leave her job, and Nome.
“I did let the governor know, I love my job, I love Nome,” she said Monday. “But I think our philosophies are aligned, and so, I feel very honored to be asked to be a part of this administration.”
Prior to her city manager role, Bahnke was a local government specialist in the Bering Strait region and also worked as Kawerak’s program director. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Portland State University and a bachelor’s in political science from Fort Hays State University in Kansas.
“For the past 15 years working with tribal, state and local government and my management experience will help greatly in my new job,” Bahnke said.
Her time as City Manager kept her distanced from local election, with Bahnke admitting “this is going to be a steep learning curve for me, but like any challenge, I’m up for it.”
Bahnke plans to travel to regional election offices at the end of August.
State campaign finance disclosures show Bahnke contributed $500 to Bill Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, and after he merged his ticket with Mallott’s Democratic-affiliated run, she gave another $200 to the combined ticket. When asked about the donation Monday, she said she was enthusiastic about Walker’s campaign but had no comment on the donations.
The Division of Elections is the only division under the lieutenant governor’s office. Mallott is in Canada this week and could not be reached for comment.
KTOO’s Lisa Phu contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: a version of this story appeared online referencing former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in the Toyukak v. Mallott case; the earlier version also misspelled Mallott spokesperson Claire Richardson’s name. The above text reflects the corrections.