Winners, losers in the confirmation process - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, October 14, 2019
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Winners, losers in the confirmation process

ANALYSIS: TRUST BROKEN BY CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

The confirmation process for the Dunleavy Administration devolved late in the evening on Wednesday. Shameful behavior on the floor of the joint session left the Legislature’s reputation muddied.

At the last hour, the confirmation of Karl Johnstone for the Board of Fisheries was brought back for a vote, and he was voted down, 24-33.

Some of his supporters in the House and Senate had left for the evening, not realizing the vote would be brought back for consideration once they left the chamber, and the pro-commercial fishing forces prevailed after an anonymous allegation of sexual harassment was brought up by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz earlier in the evening in front of the entire House and Senate.

Johnstone lost the appointment on that second vote, but so did human decency and the sense of fair play in the public process.

[Read: Democrats weaponize anonymous allegations]

A review of the winners and losers from the day:

WINNERS

Gov. Michael Dunleavy: In spite of the Democrats’ most savage attempts to embarrass him and take out three of his commissioner appointees (Price, Brune, and Clarkson), his entire cabinet was confirmed, giving him a grand slam. The behavior of the progressives in the Legislature weakened their position on the budget, as they have no moral high ground.

Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price: She weathered withering and false accusations, including repeated insinuations and a hallway whisper campaign led by Reps. Zack Fields and Adam Wool, both hardline partisan Democrats who acted like the “good-old-boys” club of yore.

Rep. Laddie Shaw: He gave the speech of the day in his support of Commissioner Price. Shaw had asked her a number of pointed questions in committee and admitted he had concerns that she had not answered them all adequately, but in the end he said the word of the law enforcement community persuaded him that Price, an unconventional choice, had earned the right to lead the Department of Public Safety.

Public Safety Employees Association: They got their preferred choice for Public Safety commissioner.

Bruce Tangeman: The Commissioner of Revenue sailed through his nomination with 100 percent of the House and Senate present voting for him. Although he has a tough assignment with a drastically reduced budget proposal from the Dunleavy Administration, the Legislature trusts him.

Strong conservative women attacked by the Left: They were targeted but dished it right back. Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka was targeted for her Christian beliefs and Commissioner Amanda Price was targeted because she is an unconventional pick for the Department of Public Safety. Hardline Democrats thought they smelled blood in the water and circled for the kill — but they thought wrong.

DNR Commissioner Corri Feige: She won 100 percent support, even from the super-liberal, uber-greenie Rep. Andy Josephson, who withdrew his objection and voted for her.

Rep. Louise Stutes and United Fishermen of Alaska: Stutes was able to get a victory against her number one target, Board of Fish nominee Karl Johnstone.

It took “Poison Ivy” Spohnholz to deliver the death blow, with an anonymous accusation lobbed at the last hour against Johnstone. It was right out of “Rules for Radicals.”

Rep. Sara Rasmussen: She showed herself to be fearless in defending fairness and an honorable process, calling out progressives like Rep. Geran Tarr, who were making unfounded character attacks on citizens who had offered to serve on volunteer boards.

LOSERS:

Rep. Zack Fields: After he had smeared the reputations of both Commissioners Kelly Tshibaka and Amanda Price, “Zack-Attack” looked like a misogynistic bully; the majority of members voted against him.

Scott Kendall: Gov. Bill Walker’s former chief of staff did lasting damage to himself. After allowing Craig Fleener, Hollis French, and Al Kookesh to remain on Walker’s payroll despite rarely showing up for work, Kendall attacked senior policy adviser Amanda Price for perceived absenteeism during the three months that their work histories overlapped. He recommended to legislators that they not confirm her appointment based on rumors he had heard about her from Grace Jang and Lacy Wilcox. But Kendall overplayed his hand. His free use of hearsay testimony has put his reputation as a lawyer at risk, and who will hire him to manage their campaign?

[Read: Walker’s chief of staff brings his wrecking ball to committee]

Elected Democrats: The unfounded accusations made by Democrats against the nominees appeared to be a case of Dunleavy Derangement Syndrome. Notable was when Rep. Geran Tarr insinuated that Board of Education nominee Bob Griffin acted like a possible kidnapper and pedophile (because he was doing a study of school bus routes in Anchorage as a part of his work as a candidate for school board.) Also notable was Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, who evidently thought Valerie Davidson had the proper qualifications to run the State’s largest department into overspending and underperforming, but said Crum doesn’t have the qualifications to fix it.

AFL-CIO Alaska President Vince Beltrami: The labor boss who lost his choices for governor (Walker, and then Begich) lobbied hard to stop the nomination of Adam Crum for commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. The union doesn’t like the privatization of Alaska Psychiatric Institute, although it put up very little effort itself to save the dying institution under the Walker Administration, leaving employees and patients in clearly unsafe conditions and the very accreditation of the facility in grave question.

Environmental Activists: Try as they may, the environmentalists just could not take out DEC Commissioner Jason Brune, who was once the spokesperson for Anglo-American, when it owned the Pebble Project. Even Rep. Tammie Wilson spoke on Brune’s behalf, and she has sided with Democrats more often than not this year.

Fish politics: It’s just hit a new low in the tension between personal use interests and the commercial fleet. The loss of Karl Johnstone to the Fish Board is not the end of the world for him, but now it appears United Fishermen of Alaska will try anything to throw the nomination of a sport fishing advocate. Who will want to put their name forward to represent sport fishing interests now that UFA has shown its colors? Of course, the UFA should be careful for what it’s asking for: The governor will now appoint someone who is purely a sports fishing advocate, and he or she will serve until the end of next session.

Truth and honor: The Legislature has never seen accusations stoop to such a low level. Members like Rep. Spohnholz making unfounded accusations on the floor of the House and Senate against witnesses who could not defend themselves put the reputation of the institution in a poor light, and gives the governor an upper hand when it comes to public perception. Even the staff members of some of these progressive Democrats have to be wondering if they are playing for the right team, and just how low their bosses will go to destroy someone.

Trust: The ability of legislators to work together with a basic understanding of the rules of engagement has been damaged by what occurred in the joint session on Wednesday. Those who sided with the progressives in the House might be having second thoughts about who their new comrades really are. Even Rep. Bart LeBon of Fairbanks, who has been working with the Democrats as an ally, could not save the appointment of his friend Vivian Stiver to the Marijuana Control Board. The Democrats ignored him. What will happen during his re-election next year when the Democrats put Kathryn Dodge, who lost to him by only one vote, up against him?

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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.

Latest comments

  • Holy smokes. Great synopsis of Weird Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Did itchy Ivy just want to snap up the last headline of the day? That was the most brutal of them all. In our fast-paced media world where the next shiny object is only minutes away, this stunt will probably fade off into the sunset to be forgotten, while the antics of the next jackass spring up quickly to ruffle our feathers again. Itchy Ivy and the liberals will probably continue to be comfortable in their positions in liberal districts. LaBon is done though. He can’t get lucky twice. And the fake Republicans better get their retirement portfolios prepped or their resumes dusted off.

  • Where is all this tension between sport fishing interests & commercial interests coming from? Seems like everyone would want to see healthy fish populations. I lived in SE for 6 years (now we do not) and saw the commercial end of things loading tons of fresh fish onto jets but also saw the tourists (also loading their tons of fish onto the jet) arriving for fishing adventures and local people subsistance halibut/salmon fishing. Its complicated I’m sure but what’s the “essence” of the conflict today? Not enough fish to go around?

    • Doesn’t most of the fish for everyone come from hatcheries payed for by comercial fishing?

      • Jack,

        No. Hatcheries release a lot of fish, but they don’t all make it back.

      • Jack,
        I think you should look at the state budget and see just how much is “on the books” in 30 year low interest loans to hatcheries and fish enhancement programs throughout the state.
        I believe it is in the hundreds of millions these days.
        “Loans may be made to qualified regional associations or private, nonprofit corporations who have obtained a private, nonprofit hatchery permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Loans may also be made for planning and preconstruction purposes prior to receipt of a hatchery permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game…
        The maximum loan amount is $10,000,000. If a request for more than $1,000,000, the applicant must be a regional association or private, nonprofit corporation approved by the regional association in the specific area of the proposed hatchery development.”

        https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded/FIN/LoanPrograms/FisheriesEnhancement.aspx

        • I realize your intent here, Steve but thought I’d include that the State also provides loans for Alaskans buying property through its auctions and over-the-counter sales.
          I’m sure you have some objections to such subsidies unless you might want one for yourself.

  • Is was a sad day for Alaska when the legislators resorted to attacking just everyday Alaskans willing to serve on boards as volunteers. The best example was when Rep Geran Tarr implied that Bob Griffin was a child predator because he was “chasing buses”. She threw the mud ala Saul Alinsky and as she well knows some of that dirty mud will always stick. Just disgusting watching elected officials attack other Alaskans when they cannot even mention each other’s names on the Floor! Prepare for a very ugly legislative session from now on.

  • Suzanne, you really did a great job summarizing the political workings of the State House in this column. Any Republican who fancies themself as a moderate, with a “go along to get along” attitude, is an abject fool. Look no further than to Paul Seaton of Homer. Knopp, Wilson, LeBon, and others will have to face some outraged constituents this summer and next year. But the real message here is that this session has been nothing but a farce, due mostly to the House. It will go down as the most disorganized and disjointed assembly of politicians in Alaska’s history. The ship of fools? Certainly. While it has been a bit entertaining at times, the average Alaskan doesn’t much give a damn what these idiot politicians do or say. The public will be watching the governor though, when he pulls out his big red veto pen over the PFD issue. Dunleavy will win again, with the public that put him in place. The sadsacks in the House can go back to their marijuana stands, or to whatever their personal needs may be. Some may even check into API for some group therapy. For most Alaska residents, what goes on in the House should stay in the House. None of them are heroes. And all of them look like fools.

  • Welcome to modern day politics. Yes indeed, this is what it has become. The question front and center is … will it get worse? In my opinion, it will get worse. Until there is some type of severe ‘personal’ consequences, the civility and decorum of politics will continue in a downward spiral so long as the constituency continues to allow it.
    In order to change things for the better, folks will have to muster up the courage and will power to actually show up and vote the scum out of office. Until then, expect it to get worse and not better!

  • I have no qualms if the Gov. remembers the behavior of some of these folks when it is time put the red pen to the budget.

  • These Legislators who invoke uncorroborated, unlitigated, or unadjudicated aspersions at the last second (ala Kavnaugh) should be censured by the Legislative body. It has happened before for much less serious ethical lapses.
    Voting is one thing, but impugning somebody’s character with anonymous allegations on the floor of the joint session is inexcusable.

    • Hey Chris-pretty sure if you have any pending court dates with any of those concerns, even when innocent until proven guilty, the law will not allow you to adopt kids. If you have only one accusation against you regarding a child, the law is going to handle any kid issues with legal gloves around that. Get several even without ajudication, you again, will not be adopting kids.

      It’s not impuning character when these things are brought up if they are indeed true, as reported.

      • Until they are proven true, you are peddling horseshit. I hope you are never found guilty before being proven innocent.

  • Shame on Spohnholz. She should know about people spreading rumors about others. She sure has had them spread about her a few years back. Tarr is an embarrassment. She knew exactly what she was doing and it backfired on her. I was extremely disappointed in the Rep that voted against Stiver. I think they made a bad decision.

  • Piss-poor leadership. The previous legislature proved that time and time again, and yet we still have the same failed House leadership.

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