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.
A review of the winners and losers from the day:
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.
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?
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?