First things first for new governor

Art Chance
Art Chance


I’m going to visualize Mike Dunleavy being Governor.

Dunleavy has no Executive Branch experience. I don’t know who around him has any, but there can’t be many.

In Frank Murkowski’s administration, we used up pretty much every nominal Republican who was at least marginally competent to accept a political appointment. We caught hell for firing so many selfless Democrat public servants, but we actually only replaced about 30 percent of the appointees.

If Knowles had won in 2006, he would have found most of his second term administration sitting there waiting for the return of the king.

Sarah Palin came in, and all the Murkowski appointees who hadn’t chosen to leave rather than work for her — I among them — got fired.

She replaced a few of them with some of her buddies but mostly Palin tried to run her government with a bunch of Knowles holdovers; what could go wrong?

Sean Parnell was so desperately afraid of the Sarah Palin tweet-in-the-night that he pretty much left her government, which was Knowles’ government, in place. Then he wondered why he was leaked, thwarted, sabotaged, and ultimately defeated by the Anchorage Daily News and its gaslighting National Guard phony scandal.

When Dunleavy wins, he’ll be awash in resumes from bright young lads and lasses who’ve always been dedicated Republicans and supported him to the hilt, or so they’ll say.

The first step is to see if they gave you any money. I’ve been around enough wannabe Republican appointees to know that the vast majority only want the appointment so they can parlay it into a lobbying contract and they couldn’t care less if the Governor that appointed them gets re-elected so long as they can get a lobbying contract.

The irony here is that the people who are most likely to be loyal to a Dunleavy administration are the merit system employees in State government, most of whom probably voted for one of the Democrats.

The government of Alaska was built by New Deal Era Democrats to be run by New Deal Era Democrats and employ the maximum number of Democrats. There is absolutely no way a Republican governor can fill all the politically appointed positions in State government with loyal and competent Republicans, and you can’t appoint the guy that did yeoman duty putting out signs for you as the head of a major division in State government.

But here is the rub for a Republican; you can’t run the government with holdovers. If you are to have a prayer of effectively running the government, you absolutely must fire everyone that you have a legal right to fire as your hand comes off The Bible.

The Hermaphrodite Administration (Bill Walker) fired everyone left from Palin/Parnell who’d ever had a Republican thought.

Consequently, almost everyone in the government in a position of any authority was hired or promoted by Knowles or by someone who was hired or promoted by a person hired or promoted either in Knowles or Walker. There are a very few relatively apolitical subject matter experts that it would be a shame to lose, but fire them anyway, let them miss a paycheck or two, and hire them back once they realize who is boss. The rest of them can lose their waterfront houses, boats, airplanes, vacation homes, and bedwarmers.

It is going to be lonely in State government when they’re all gone and you really don’t have much of a talent pool to draw on; there are really not a lot of competent, loyal Republicans who want to be a public employee, even a high-level one, when they grow up.

Find some good people to run the major areas where you must make changes.

In the rest of the government, go to the merit system employees who were direct reports to the appointees who are now unemployed.   The vast majority of them will keep things running and not give you any trouble.   It is far more trouble to fix something than to keep it running, so they’ll keep it running. You give them acting status and the pay of their former boss and most of them will behave and work productively. There’ll be a few ideologues and malcontents who’ll do something stupid, and you’ll just have to fire them. Yes, you can fire public employees, even unionized public employees.

Now the lobbyists and players who’ll flock to you once you’re elected will tell you that you can’t do this; that it will be too disruptive.

The reality is that the very hardest thing you could do would be to stop the government from running. The only major thing that will be disrupted are the contacts lists belonging to those lobbyists and players.

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. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.


  1. Art, you are the best. Say it like it is. You are wrong on one thing though… Walker missed a few in the firing line. You know the kind…”shape shifters”. Hoping the next administration will heed your advice and weed them out. Bust it down through the directors. Clean it out. And the rank and file sure can keep things running. They do it already. The wheels will keep churning just fine.

    • The “shape shifters” are why I say you have to get them all. I maintain that if you can get to longevity steps in an appointed position that is graphic evidence that you have zero principles. I never made it to longevity but once in a merit system job that was close to political management.

  2. Art, you speak some truth but our guy needs optimism, not pessimism. He needs a war plan.

    In reality there are many experienced conservative retirees and ex-employees who love Alaska and have extensive experience in one or more of the regulatory and resource agencies. You’re one of them, and so am I. We’re out there.

    You’re right that we won’t work for the sycophants and lawyers clogging the upper levels now, but be honest, if you were given a real chance, supported by a strong governor backed by a strong legislature, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to help reform this behemoth? Mike Dunleavy needs guys just like us to examine the core missions of each of these agencies, recommend changes to laws and policies, and to draw up org charts with lots of X marks on them. The young and inexperienced Tier IV employees just don’t have that vision yet.

    It can be done. Alaska is worth it.

    • You should be careful…
      That kind of talk could start a movement… might get a swamp drained, a capital moved, state finances audited, the Mustax Coalition fired, productive Alaskans interested in something better than the theater that passes for state government.
      Worst of all, it might scare away our new BFF’s, the Communist Chinese.
      It could happen.

    • I don’t know that I would take an appointive position, but I’d certainly serve on any sort of advisory committee where I might be useful. I swore when I retired that I would never again be responsible for another person’s actions or performance.

      When I returned to the Executive Branch in ’99 after three years working for the Leg, I was amazed at how much institutional knowledge had simply vanished. As Democrats do, they put in kids and hacks and kept a few junior staff that didn’t have the courage to quit and move on. In six and a half years I turned over almost the entire staff and built new, but really all I could do was produce a staff that could do stuff pretty well but had very limited ability to figure out what ought to be done. That is something that you only get with years of experience, and years of experience is the last thing Democrats want around.

  3. Although my (required) resignation letter was rejected and I was officially ‘retained’ in the Paling administration, 10 months later I was fired.

    However, being fired by Commissioner Annette Krietzer isn’t really anything that I’m ashamed of

  4. A fairly good analysis and recommendation by Mr. Chance. My experience is based on much the same set of facts. I would put the recommendation slightly differently: All commissioners and deputy commissioner (with a very, very small number of exceptions) should be terminated upon taking office. In the case of the next layer, the division directors, they should be terminated as well and replaced on an “acting” basis with the next in command for the agency. In this way the person in the “acting” role would owe at least some allegiance to the new appointing authority since they had been rewarded to a degree.

    The most problematic agency was not mentioned by Mr. Chance: The Department of Law in which ALL attorneys hired are exempt or partially exempt employees. Many of these folks are highly intelligent but unfortunately the majority of these lawyers are very opinionated and very liberal in political terms. If Alaska has a Deep State, many of the State lawyers are charter members and will do a great deal to thwart the initiatives of a new conservative Governor. The challenge for the new Governor will be to find a good Attorney General and another half dozen of good attorneys to manage and control the legal Deep State.

    Historically, the State’s lawyers, either at the direction of their boss (which may be the Governor) or on their own initiative, will seek to block or establish a policy based on a very opaque notion that the law requires that result. This sort of resistance must be constantly tested by policy/agency officials. In this respect, some actions of the Department of Law have been inconsistent with the Rules of Professional Conduct which provide (Rule 1.2) that “… a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation and shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued.” The State’s lawyers must be required to respect the policy decisions of the agencies they work for — their clients. If they do not want to do this, they should be terminated.

    • Shouldn’t consideration be given to preserving the continuity of state government to assure reasonable consistency in policies and working relationships among departments…
      An organization is likely to be less productive, or loyal to leadership, if members perceive that leadership policy and culture are impermanent, unlikely to last beyond the next election.
      Yet the idea of periodic, complete termination is so attractive to customers who perceive government as more entrenched opponent than user-friendly advocate.
      Would be interested in yours and Art’s opinions as to how balance between wholesale termination and preserving at least some continuity in government can be achieved, or whether it’s even a worthwhile consideration…

      • I will let Mr. Chance speak for himself but I will suggest that there are tons of folks in classified positions at Range 20 and above to provide the continuity you seek. My approach to termination of commissioners, deputy commissioners and division directors mirrors the reality of how they were selected: They are all political appointments. And in my experience, almost all of these folks are extremely political. Except for one interval, I spent my entire working career in positions that were “at will” and subject to immediate termination. I sleep just fine at night.

      • Government runs in spite of, not because of political appointees. The merit system employees who report to the political appointees will provide any continuity.

      • Here’s a plan:

        First, the Governor should terminate as completely as possible, down to deputy director and program managers if they are political appointees (some are and some are not). These can all be terminated with re-hire status of course but they should not be left in as “acting”. The staff in Range 18 to 22 management positions can be designated authorities, given acting positions if necessary, and all programs will continue to run just fine. Staff probably won’t even complain that much.

        My management experience is with Natural Resources, Fish & Game, DOT, and Environmental Conservation. I imagine it is similar in Education, Admin, HSS and others. A plan like this is needed and will work.

        After termination there should be fairly swift appointment of new commissioners, likely many that are temporary for the year of change, and then very swift cuts of entire programs targeted as duplicative, wasteful, or unnecessary. Those can be pre-planned so that the new commissioners agree to them before they are appointed. Next have an executive team close to the governor work with the commissioners to determine and articulate the statutory mission of each program. IGNORE the regulatory mission statements, especially those promulgated in the last 6 years. Focus on what these programs are supposed to do by law. Your new Directors are going to need to clean house and eliminate a lot of the regulatory bloat, so these Directors are the most important thing to get right for the new administration. The hiring team should be tight, decisive, and totally on board with the Governor.

        Next the team should work closely with the commissioners to appoint new directors. Of course you don’t need to appoint directors for programs you are eliminating, those should just wind down. Each program’s statutory mission should be articulated clearly to the director applicants. The important thing is that all of the new directors are on board with proposing a new budget that retains only what is necessary to accomplish the agreed upon statutory mission.

        The problem with making sweeping across the board cuts, like 5%, 10% whatever, is that some programs are way over-funded but other programs are not funded sufficiently. It is very possible that more resources will need to go to Public Safety and the Court System, or at least to some of their programs. Some of the Education programs will likely also need more resources. We need to put more money into infrastructure. There are programs in some agencies that could be totally funded on user fees. Each of these needs to be examined and then changes implemented. Some agencies will definitely be cut more than others. The Directors will be the ones doing this.

        Next, the Directors and Commissioners need to evaluate and suspend or terminate if possible many of the regulations promulgated by Walker. There are layers of unnecessary bureaucracy built into many of these regulations that were not intended by the authorizing statutes. The regulations implementing some of these programs are a major impediment to making cuts to the staffing.

        During this whole process the Governor needs to take a hard line stance with the unions, re-asserting the state’s right to manage its employees. A streamlined dispute resolution process is needed for all of the complaints that will result from the cuts that need to be made. Funding for the unions can be further reduced by implementing the new supreme court decision that employees aren’t required to join or pay.

        The process will be a series of steps for sure, but it will only happen if the new Governor develops a plan something like this. I can assure you this will not happen with Walker or Begich.

        • Art, Fred, and Jmark, thanx for your insights.
          One hopes you, and others like you, are on Governor Dunleavy’s speed dial…

    • I didn’t want to get down into the weeds about Law. Yes, they’re all technically politically appointees, but the Courts aren’t going to buy that if you start firing them. The “controlling legal authority” is some Daley Administration cases that went to the USSC, in which the Court held that a government’s designation of political appointee didn’t mean much. They posed a test based on the employee’s influence on policy, and only the very top level of Law’s employees really would qualify. So, the PX designation isn’t enough to say they serve at the pleasure. Hickel/Coghill lost several cases for firing lefty lawyers. If Dunleavy wins, he needs to clean out the high-level lawyers that are clearly policy level; he needs to be very, very careful about the lower level lawyers who are just researchers, brief-writers, and briefcase toters.

  5. Thank you, Suzanne, for keeping us informed! I’m waiting breathlessly for Dunleavy and Meyer to sweep the state tonight and in November. Note to Governor Taker: Start packing!! :). Making Alaska Great Again starts tonight!

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