A character assassination on University of Alaska Board of Regents nominee Bethany Marcum by Democrat Sen. Jesse Kiehl of Juneau was the low point in the deliberations about whether Marcum, executive director of the conservative Alaska Policy Forum, would be added as a regent.
Marcum’s confirmation failed, closely, in a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. Democrats and liberal Republicans voted against her.
All other nominees by the governor to various boards and commissions were accepted, but leftists in the Legislature spoke passionately against Marcum, characterizing her policy positions as anti-education, and saying that all she wants to do is cut the budget for the university.
The dirtiest attack came when Sen. Kiehl said Marcum came into his office once as an advocate on an education issue and told him that she was “just a mom” who didn’t know how things work around here, and then tearfully beseeched him to see her point of view on education. At the time, he was taking the meeting as a legislative aide on behalf of the late Sen. Dennis Egan, his predecessor.
Kiehl said later he found out that she had been a legislative aide, and in his mind this contradicted her statement of being a mom who didn’t know how things worked. He challenged her integrity.
It was very much reminiscent of what former Rep. Ivy Spohnholz did during the confirmation of Karl Johnstone to the Board of Fish in 2019, when she stood on the floor of the session and accused Johnstone of sexual harassment of someone — relaying a third-hand story she had heard, which she told without disclosing the source of the accusation. It was at the height of the “me too” craze, and Spohnholz used an anonymous attack a man who had served as a judge in Alaska for many years, and who was not able to stand up and refute her attacks.
As for the Keihl attack on Marcum, she told Must Read Alaska that it’s astounding since “I’ve never been a mom and certainly have never told anyone that I am.”
Several Republicans defended Marcum on Tuesday. Rep. David Eastman said it was inappropriate for Kiehl to attack the character of a nominee in that manner.
Especially effective was Sen. Shelley Hughes, who stood up and began by stating, “I’m just a mom and sometimes I don’t know how things work around here.” Hughes is in the super-minority in the Senate, banished from all committee assignments by the liberal majority.
Hughes said that accusing Marcum of lacking integrity was unfair and pointed out that, not only does Marcum have a bachelor’s and master’s degree, she has had additional education in Japan and Hungary, and she has spent years studying and publishing important information about education in Alaska. Hughes and other Republicans said that it’s important to have a diversity of opinion on the Board of Regents, and not every regent needs to be rah-rah for the University of Alaska system, which has plenty of critics around the state for quality and performance.
Rep. Dan Saddler also spoke to the importance of the diversity of opinion, and reminded the body that there are other people (Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State) who say they are just “moms in tennis shoes.” It’s an idiom that should not be considered an absolute when weighing someone’s integrity.
Marcum, who was out of state when the vote occurred, said it went about as she expected.
Clearly, as expressed by several Democrats, her role as a strong advocate on the Redistricting Board set Democrats and people like Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel against her.