Obsessed: House Democrats fester over AIDEA contract

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‘POLITICAL THEATER’ BREAKS OUT OVER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

For nearly a year, left-leaning bloggers and mainstream media have had an obsession with an upbeat Alaskan business entrepreneur named Clark Penney.

Today, House Democrats Sara Hannan, Zack Fields, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins gave into their obsession by spending nearly 90 minutes of a House committee meeting badgering the Dunleavy Administration about Penney, who makes $8,000 a month as a confidential economic development consultant asked by the Administration to bring more commercial enterprises and diversified investment dollars to the state.

It’s the kind of work that requires a certain set of skills, and trusted contacts with the business community at large. Penney, who also owns a wealth management firm and who has several special licenses with the Securities and Exchange Commission, brings that unique skill set.

The economic development adviser is also a role that can’t be put out to the lowest bidder, although that was the inference from the questions brought by the Democrats on the House Commerce Committee, chaired by Democrat Rep. Adam Wool.

Penney, whose grandfather is a leading business leader in Alaska and who was a financial backer of a group that supported Gov. Dunleavy’s campaign for governor, was awarded a sole-source contract to drive economic growth.

He is paid through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. And in Year One, he’s been instrumental in the expansion of the Ted Stevens International Airport as a cargo hub.

Democrats in the Legislature are fascinated that Penney, with all his success and family wealth, should be awarded a contract, although they showed little interest in the $120,000 per month contract that Gov. Bill Walker awarded to his old friend Rigdon Boykin. Democrats also had no curiosity about the $100,000 per month contract to Walker’s other Alaska Gasline Development Authority colleague Radoslav Shipkoff.

Why so little Democrat curiosity about Walker contracts with Boykin and Shipkoff?

Those were deals put together by nominal Independent Gov. Walker on behalf of his gasline project, a venture that never materialized, although hundreds of millions of dollars were spilled along the way to the shelf where the project currently sits.

Eight months into Boykin’s contract, Walker finally had paid off what many believe to be his personal handshake-debt to the South Carolina lawyer, and Boykin disappeared back to the South Carolina piedmont, along with $850,000 of State of Alaska money. Still, no inquiry from the Democrats.

While Penney grosses just $8,000 a month, a fraction of the Boykin contract, Democrats Rep. Hannan, Kreiss-Tomkins, and Fields were prepared to dominate the presentation of the Department of Commerce and AIDEA by constantly emphasizing that Penney would gross $440,000 if he was retained for the full 40 months of the possible contract, which is an at-will agreement.

His contract is actually $8,000 a month with reimbursable expenses not to exceed $36,000 for travel and other related costs of doing business.

The Democrats see this as a soft spot to stick a knife in the Dunleavy Administration.

“My question is, do you supervise Clark Penney and do you have an idea what he does on a day to day basis,” asked Rep. Zack Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, in a pointed question to John Springsteen, deputy commissioner of Commerce. Springsteen said he did not. It was the beginning of a series of questions that drilled into the same theme: Who hired Penney?

“Is Mr. Penney, in your view, a member of the Economic Development Team, as Commissioner Anderson said last week?” Fields continued. The interruptions continued throughout Springsteen’s presentation.

Fields pointed out that Penney had only started his business a year ago. But a search of business records shows that Penny started his consulting company, Penney Capital, in 2014, but then converted his company to an S Corporation in 2018, at the same time dissolving the LLC structure.

The questions continued to focus on Penney. Fully half of those asked during the presentation were aimed at discrediting the businessman.

Kreiss-Tomkins, suspicious that Penney isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, wanted to know what Penney knew about mariculture.

And finally, he showed the Democrats’ cards, by stating that the reason they were all so focused on Penney is that his grandfather supported Dunleavy.

Fields continued with several questions about Penney and who had made the decision to hire him.

Hannan asked why Penney wasn’t working on transportation issues for Southeast Alaska.

Finally, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, who had not gotten the memo about this being a coordinated attack, had heard enough of the cross-examination of AIDEA President Tom Boutin, and called for a point of order:

“This is getting into political theater and that is something I don’t appreciate,” she said. “We’ve got work to do here at the table. I’m here to work. It’s not a Clark Penney committee. This is DCCED, it’s AIDEA, it’s ADT (Alaska Development Team). Can we move forward, please?”