At a time of state budget crunches and a hiring freeze ordered by the governor, Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth has brought in an assistant attorney general for tribal matters and LGBTQ issues. And the Department of Health and Social Services has hired away the governor’s press secretary as its communications director.
Between the two, they account for more than $250,000 a year in additional costs to state government. They represent the tip of the iceberg of state hiring that is in violation of the governor’s hiring freeze.
Attorney Alex Cleghorn began work this month for Attorney General Lindemuth. He was general counsel for Koniag, Inc.
According to the Department of Law’s public directory, Cleghorn is a member of the Opinions, Ethics, and Appeals section, but he works on a different floor and has very little interaction with that section, we’re told. Cleghorn began working as Lindemuth’s special assistant on May 15.
Following graduation from law school in 2003, Cleghorn practiced law in California for several years, primarily focusing on Native American and LGBTQ rights. His LinkedIn social media site says he was a staff attorney for California Indian Legal Services and later served as a tribal judge for the Northern California Intertribal Court System.
Cleghorn served as chair of the Transgender Law Center and worked as an ACLU staff attorney in Northern California, where he says he successfully advocated for the right of gay and lesbian partners of prison inmates to enjoy overnight conjugal visits.
The Campaign for Children and Families objected to conjugal visits for both gay and straight inmates, arguing that private, unsupervised visits provided a mechanism for smuggling contraband.
In 2015, Cleghorn returned to Alaska. His new position in the Department of Law is his ninth job since leaving law school.
With the governor announcing a hiring freeze in 2016, hiring for empty state jobs was barred except for those directly impacting Alaskans’ life and safety. He also put in place travel restrictions, which have been all but ignored.
The governor’s hiring freeze exempted Alaska state troopers, corrections and probation officers, and certain health care workers. Any other exemptions were to be cleared with the governor’s office and must be “mission critical,” not able to be done by other state workers.
Now, an attorney who has been admitted to the Alaska bar for less than one year and who is an expert in LGBT and tribal law is the definition of Governor Walker’s “mission critical.”
Attorneys at the department say that there are many state legal jobs that are actually related to life and safety that are unfilled — positions that protect children from abuse, and prosecute heinous crimes against the vulnerable.
Meanwhile, over in the Governor’s Office, press secretary Katie Marquette has left the hot seat to become the communication director for the Department of Health and Social Services, according to her LinkedIn page.
The position in the state directory, however, lists her job as project analyst.
That leaves Grace Jang, communications director, and Jonathon Taylor, deputy press secretary, and an unfilled press secretary position for the governor’s office, which is likely to be back-filled before long.
These two hires are part of a parade of new nonessential workers allowed to join the Walker Administration. John-Henry Heckendorn, a 26-year-old campaign manager from the Ship Creek Group, was hired by the governor as a special assistant earlier this year.
The Boston-bred political consultant with five years of campaign experience has been spotted with the governor continuously since his hire, and it’s well understood he is advising the governor on his 2018 run, along with new chief of staff Scott Kendall, himself a veteran campaign operative.
Heckendorn describes his role as “Primary staffer to the Governor in meetings and travel, coordinating internal communications and action item follow up, assisting Chief of Staff with special projects.” He’s the governor’s “body man,” and so much more.
Apparently, “mission critical” in the Walker Administration has come to mean getting the boss re-elected.