Former state senator appointed interim Denali Commission head

John Torgerson, interim federal co-chair of the Denali Commission. 2014 photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO

Former state senator John Torgerson has been appointed to run the Denali Commission while a search is underway for the organization’s next leader.

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Torgerson, reached by phone at his homestead in Kasilof, says he expects to be in the job for a few months and says he’s not interested in having the job on a more permanent basis.

Torgerson, 70, was elected to the state Senate in 1994 as a Republican. He was chairman of the Resources Committee during pitched battles over subsistence. Torgerson later served as a Deputy Commissioner of Transportation and chaired a redistricting board.

Alaska’s congressional delegation requested the interim appointment and recommended Torgerson for it. U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Congressman Don Young, said in a letter last week that they were close to finalizing their list of nominees to be the federal co-chair for the next four-year term. The federal co-chair is the person in charge of day-to-day operations for the Denali Commission and is the only person who can authorize spending.

The final selection will be up to the U.S. Commerce secretary.

The Denali Commission was created in 1998 to fund infrastructure projects in rural Alaska, primarily with federal money. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating it but Congress this year increased its budget to $30 million.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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