Gregg Renkes calls it quits

Attorney general leaves post to remove family from 'vicious politics'

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2005

Attorney General Gregg Renkes announced his resignation Saturday after months of battling criticism for alleged ethics breaches while shaping an international trade deal.

Renkes, in a prepared statement, cited personal attacks that he said continued even after an outside investigator concluded there was no ethical breach except for one instance.

Renkes wrote that his motivation for stepping down was to remove his family "from the vicious politics of personal destruction."

"I must leave this office and this privilege I have treasured and held dear. A family is priceless; a job can be done by others," he said in the statement.

Renkes will step down Monday, after he hands Gov. Frank Murkowski a written letter of resignation, Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said Saturday.

The governor has already accepted Renkes' verbal resignation, she said.

"Gregg's decision to resign was his own and I respect that decision," Murkowski said in a statement released Saturday evening.

The governor plans to appoint an acting attorney general next week, according to the statement.

A call to Renkes' cell phone was not immediately returned. Renkes was traveling and was not available to comment, spokesman Mark Morones said.

"I think he's just tired. It's taken a big toll on him," Morones said.

A report released last month by former U.S. Attorney Robert Bundy concluded that Renkes' stock in KFx Inc. wasn't significant enough to be considered an ethics breach. KFx stood to benefit from an international coal deal between Alaska and Taiwan that Renkes played a major role in putting together.

The value of Renkes' KFx stock was about $100,000 at the time he sold it in October, after news reports surfaced of his holdings in the company.

Bundy said Renkes violated Alaska ethics law by not seeking an outside opinion on his involvement in the Alaska-Taiwan agreement, and Murkowski last week issued Renkes a letter of reprimand for that breach. In his letter, Murkowski said he would not ask for the attorney general's resignation.

Several lawmakers complained that Murkowski's letter of reprimand was a slap on the wrist.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said Saturday he believed Renkes' character had been attacked "viciously and mercilessly," which made it difficult for the attorney general to perform his duties.

"I'm disappointed that Gregg had to resign because I like him personally, but I do understand because there was so much interest in it, I don't think he could legitimately focus on his job anymore."

The state personnel board is considering a separate Renkes ethics complaint filed by Democratic Rep. Eric Croft and former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin, a Republican.

Croft said Saturday that Renkes' resignation likely makes the personnel board's investigation moot. Croft sad it was a sad day for Renkes and the state, but called Renkes' decision the right one.

"None of us is as big as the job, the state, the obligation," Croft said. "So the really important thing is, do our actions help the people preserve the dignity of the office or not?

"In this case, his actions did not and he quite rightly chose to resign."

Renkes worked in Anchorage during law school and moved to Palmer to work for the Alaska Court System after graduation in 1986, according to his biography on the Web page of the National Association of Attorneys General. He worked as a law clerk and state magistrate under Superior court Judge Beverly Cutler in Palmer.

Renkes served 12 years on Murkowski's Washington, D.C. Senate staff and headed a public policy firm specializing in energy, environment, natural resources, public works, transportation and trade issues.

From 1995 to 1998, he worked as majority staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

He coordinated the 1993 and 1998 campaigns to re-elect Murkowski to the Senate.

He also was Murkowski's campaign manager for his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. When Murkowski was elected that November, Renkes was one of the governor-elect's first appointments, despite his lack of time practicing in the state.

Renkes' legal advice during his two-plus years as the state's top lawyer has repeatedly generated controversy.

He was point man for a Murkowski proposal to abolish the state agency that oversees campaign finance and lobbying activities, the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Renkes contended the commission was slow to resolve complaints and that it appeared to be influenced by partisan politics. The measure failed.

After the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled Alaskans could possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes, Renkes ordered state police to continue to seize and treat as evidence all marijuana found - even if it was under 4 ounces.

Renkes appealed the ruling and was denied a rehearing by that court and the Alaska Supreme Court.

Renkes was described by Bundy as a major player in negotiating the terms of the $1 billion deal that would take coal from Cook Inlet, use a patented KFx process to make it consumable and export it to Taiwan.

Renkes had personal ties to KFx's executives and owned company stock that was actively traded throughout the negotiations, but Bundy concluded that Renkes had not intended to use his office to personally gain from the deal.

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