By ART CHANCE
I spent an interesting hour or so last week with Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. I wouldn’t say we’re friends; I was in government too long to really have friends, but we know each other and can converse as honestly as political types converse.
I’m associated with a group of old guys, mostly guys, mostly old anyway, who have a few hundred years of governmental and political experience. And while we’re mostly out to pasture, we still like to meddle in things and tell people what they should have done.
So, we had a chat with the lieutenant governor about election integrity, mail ballots, witness signatures, Dominion machines, and most interestingly, the Kelly Tshibaka report on the Division of Elections.
In the early days of the Dunleavy Administration, Tshibaka was something of a minister without portfolio who had a fancy pedigree and a resume as an Inspector General for the U.S. Government. Gov. Mike Dunleavy tasked her with doing an investigative report on the Division of Elections. I’ll assume it was for “the Administration,” but I’ve worked in administrations where the governor and the lieutenant governor weren’t all that friendly, so I don’t know whose idea it was and what the real purpose was.
Tshibaka produced an investigative report, which since she was working for him, I assume she gave to the governor. It appears the governor gave it to the lieutenant governor, who has responsibility for the Division of Elections. Somewhere in there, the Attorney General got involved.
It was supposed to be a meeting of allies if not friends, so I couldn’t subject Lt. Gov. Meyer to the withering cross-examination my old advocate’s brain was screaming for. Meyer is a former senator, so I assure you he knew little of the ways of the Executive Branch. Most of Gov. Dunleavy’s appointees had little or no Executive Branch experiences so I don’t know how they looked at things.
In my time as an appointed official, I was a jaded, cynical, long-time bureaucrat who would never involve the Attorney General in any of my business unless I wanted to delay or hide something or knew it was destined to go to court, and even then, I’d wait as long as I dared.
Rule One: If you’re a Republican-elected or -appointed official, the Department of Law is not your friend.
Since I couldn’t do that cross-examination, I don’t know if Meyer went to Attorney General Treg Taylor for advice or word leaked out that there was some sort of report . Somebody filed a Public Records Act request for the report. Alaska’s Public Records Act dates back to the days when so-called “Sunshine Laws” were very fashionable and it is pretty wide open. Other than a very limited number of explicit protections, if the State produces it or causes it to be produced, it is a public record and the public is entitled to inspect the record. If you want copies, they can charge for the copies, but that is a clue they don’t like you and aren’t going to be helpful. In any event, the Tshibaka report wound up in the care of the AG and has never seen the light of day since.
Gov. Sarah Palin and Annette Kreitzer, her Commissioner of Administration, struggled mightily with this issue, but the struggle is futile; if you don’t want to read it on the front page of the newspaper that hates you most, don’t do it, don’t write it, or record it. I was a pretty controversial figure for many years; try finding something that isn’t a pleading or a published formal document on State letterhead with my name on it.
Sen. Mike Shower is trying to advance some election integrity legislation. Of course, there are a lot of people in the State Legislature whose last desire is election integrity, especially those whose day job is with a union. Shower is a sitting Senator and he says the lieutenant governor and the AG won’t give him a state document. There is absolutely no legal reason under the Public Records Act to deny release of that report to any citizen of Alaska, and especially not to a member of the Legislature. (A caveat; I’m given to understand that it has some reference to the criminal case against Rep. Gabriel LeDoux, and there is an explicit confidentiality protection for information related to an on-going criminal matter.)
I’ve dealt with some of these requests from legislators when I believed that it was all about a State employee trying to use political influence. I just sent the requesting legislator a copy of AS 39.25.080, the law controlling State employee record confidentiality and asked them if they would adhere to it if we provided the record. If they agreed, it was a crime to give the record to their favorite ADN reporter, so we never had any real problem with it.
So, we got a concert of mumbling and dissembling from Meyer. He carried on about how it wasn’t finished. All he needs to do is read AS 40.25.220 and he’ll find that drafts and notes are public records. If you produce it as a State employee or officer, it is a public record and the only way you can avoid disclosing it is to throw it in Gastineau Channel; you’ll get charged with destroying the public record. You be the judge of which is best for your career.
I don’t even know what is in the Tshibaka report; it may say that the Alaska Division of Elections is the best in the world. But if it does, why are they hiding it? In my days as an advocate, I had a simple rule; if it was there to come out in hearing, it was going to come out, so it was a helluva lot better for it to come out from you than from the adversary. Meyer and Dunleavy need to stop hiding behind or listening to the lawyers and just stand up with this. Wondering what it says is worse than knowing what it says.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.