Dunleavy apologizes to Fish Board nominee for ‘appalling’ behavior of lawmaker
Gov. Michael Dunleavy on Tuesday sent a letter to retired Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone, expressing his regret that the Legislature didn’t confirm his nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, and thanking him for having gone through the process.
But then, Dunleavy went further:
“I am dismayed by the way our elected officials behaved during your confirmation,” he wrote.
“Sadly, we watched our elected officials forsake decorum and a fair process. In doing so, they trampled on your Constitutional rights and disenfranchised real victims of serious crimes,” Dunleavy wrote.
The governor was referring to a ruthless power play by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz and Rep. Louise Stutes to block the nomination of the judge, by accusing the judge on the floor of the House of sexual harassment of unknown persons described as “more than two women,” at unknown times, in an unknown place. Even the nature of the alleged harassment is still unknown. The accusation came just as the vote was about to be taken last week in a joint House/Senate session.
Johnstone had no opportunity to defend himself, and Spohnholz has, a week later, not revealed the secret accusers, whom she said wanted to remain anonymous, nor has she responded to reporters’ requests for even the slightest documentation. She has only stated that in the future, such allegations should be done in secret committee meetings.
Or, as some observers called it, Joseph McCarthy style.
“This is a disturbing example where politicians abandoned our sacred values and resorted to theatrics and character assassination,” Dunleavy wrote to Johnstone. “They left you without a voice, due process, the presumption of innocence, or the right to face an accuser and review evidence. It was appalling.”
“I pray that what you have gone through will be used as a wakeup call for our legislators and they will again take up the torch of vigorously defending all Alaskans’ rights,” he wrote.
Johnstone served two full terms on the Fish Board after retiring from the bench. He served as chairman and received a legislative citation that described him as the “Gold Standard” of board service.
But after being waived off the board by the Walker Administration, and then renominated by Gov. Dunleavy, Johnstone ran into heavy artillery fire from the powerful commercial fleet, which sees him as favoring sports fishing interests in Cook Inlet.
Johnstone has vigorously denied the allegations made against him by Spohnholz. In the contentious public hearing and committee process leading up to the floor vote, the commercial fishing community opposed him for policy, and no inference had ever been made that he had behaved inappropriately, until Ivy Spohnholz took the floor and made vague and unsubstantiated allegations.
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.