LEGISLATORS BALK AT GOVERNOR WALKER’S HUMAN RIGHTS NOMINEE
The Alaska State Legislature struggled to confirm some of Gov. Bill Walker’s 98 appointments to boards and commissions.
They debated whether Hollis French could grow into his role on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
They argued over Board of Fish and Board of Game appointments.
But when it came to Drew Phoenix’s appointment to the Human Rights Commission, there was surprisingly little debate. In fact, Rep. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, called for the question, which put a merciful end to the hand-wringing early on in a Tuesday joint session of the House and Senate.
Only a few had spoken about Phoenix by then — Reps. Dave Guttenberg, Scott Kawasaki, Geran Tarr, and Andy Josephson, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski and Berta Gardner all spoke on behalf of Phoenix.
Rep. Jennifer Johnston said Phoenix’ work for the American Civil Liberties Union posed a hurdle for her, since that group frequently sues the state over matters that Phoenix would be adjudicating. And Sen. John Coghill said Phoenix really didn’t answer questions fully during his confirmation hearings.
The vote went down 35-24 opposing Phoenix, who has made a career of being the face of transgenderism.
The vote was not strictly on party lines, with two Republicans who now vote almost exclusively with Democrats crossing over to oppose the nomination: Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage and Louise Stutes of Kodiak.
Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer, a third Democrat-aligned Republican, voted in favor of Phoenix. Ketchikan Indie-Democrat Daniel Ortiz joined him as did West Anchorage Indie-Dem Jason Grenn. Rep. Dan Saddler, a socially conservative Republican, was excused, as he was out of town for family reasons.
The Alaska Family Council saw it as a victory for religious freedom. One of the concerns many conservative Christians have is that laws are shifting that prevent them from living out their faith — florists are forced by law to provide bouquets for gay weddings, bakers end up shutting their doors because they don’t want to bake cakes that celebrate same-sex unions.
Much of the tension has been in the wedding-services arena, but other issues are arising that involve bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports participation by youth. Already, one boy is competing against girls in Haines high school track because he “identifies” as a girl.
The Human Rights Commission does not, at this time, deal with these sexual orientation issues, but many in the religious community worry about mission creep — the adding-on of rights for which the commission would be the quasi-judicial authority.
Phoenix is seen as an advocate for adding a new category of legal protections for various gender-based lifestyles, including gay, transgender, or any of the 58 gender descriptions that Facebook provides. He makes no bones about his advocacy for including sexual orientation as protected categories.
The ACLU of Alaska issued this statement:
“Its troubling to us at the ACLU of Alaska that so many of our legislators felt that we live in a time when a quality man like Drew Phoenix should be denied opportunities to serve simply because he is a transgender and is willing to stand up and demand the same rights as other Alaskans.
“It is important to note that no one has brought up any wrong doing on Drew’s part. They only opposed Drew because he is openly transgender.”
The ACLU’s statement is not entirely supported. Phoenix was opposed because he advocates for including a new category of protected rights to the commission’s work, and those rights may violate the religious rights of other Alaskans. Must Read Alaska heard from several legislators who have no problem with his gender expression. They simply want sideboards on the Human Rights Commission’s quasi-judicial powers. Phoenix’s advocacy work was seen is indicating strong biases.
Phoenix piled on with the ACLU, describing the vote to the Alaska Dispatch News as a case of “transphobia.”
But there was actually more legislative “phobia” over the appointment of former Senator French to the oil and gas commission. French is a long-time critic of oil companies and promoted sharply higher taxes on them when he served.
The post is widely seen as payback to French for dropping out of the 2014 race for lieutenant governor so that Walker could cobble together a ticket with Byron Mallott.
Mallott quit his bid as the Democratic candidate for governor and ran as Walker’s running mate. French had given up his safe senatorial seat and had won the primary when he was asked by Alaska Democrats and Bill Walker to drop out.
It can be argued that French bowing out of the race made it possible for Walker to win.
At one point in the debate over French, Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski tried to move French’s nomination to the end of the calendar, perhaps hoping that the clock would run out. That failed and the nomination was considered, with French approved, 35-24.
Among those who were also confirmed were Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack .They waved through Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack and Department of Public Safety Walt Monegan.
In the end, Phoenix was the only nominee who failed to be confirmed. The legislature has confirmed 97 of Gov. Walker’s 98 appointments.