A state of laws - or not

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

Gov. Murkowski was elected by a majority of Alaskans and should be given reasonable latitude to implement his policy goals. However, there are limits - such as those imposed by law - on the governor's power. Unfortunately, disregard of existing law is a troubling but dominant theme of the first months of the Murkowski administration. The following three examples illustrate this point (Internet links are provided to the relevant laws).

First, the governor's elevation of his daughter to the U.S. Senate arguably runs afoul of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act (http://www.law.state.ak.us/ethics/). Among other things, this act prohibits a public officer from taking "official action in order to affect a matter in which the officer has a personal or financial interest." AS 39.52.120(b)(4). A "personal interest" is further defined in the ethics act as "an interest held by an officer or the officer's immediate family member." AS 39.52.960.

Second, the governor's proposal to leverage the Permanent Fund stands in stark contrast to the laws pertaining to the fund (http://www.apfc.org/Library/ConstAndLaw.cfm?s=5m). The PFD laws are clear: "fund assets shall only be used for income producing investments" AS 37.13.120(b). Alaska's past leaders even installed language that directly addresses alternative uses of the fund: "resources of the corporation or the fund may not be used to finance or influence political activities." AS 37.13.190. Yet the governor's own vivid description of how the fund's ownership of Boeing shares could be used to influence senators from certain states (to vote in favor of opening ANWR) reveals his aim is clearly political.

Third, the widely reported (but now denied) gag order on government workers could, if substantiated, constitute a violation of the First Amendment.

Numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases have affirmed that public sector employees have a right to comment on matters of public concern. Threats, orders or retaliation that infringe upon state employees' exercise of their free speech rights would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Murkowski administration is free to use the political process to amend or abolish laws that stand in their way; however, they are not free to disregard them.

Mike Boyer


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