The appointment of Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission drew fierce debate from Democrats on Tuesday who said serving on both bodies poses a conflict of interest.
The joint meeting of the House and Senate confirmed Ruedrich on a party-line vote of 36-18.
The Legislature also confirmed former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin to the oil and gas commission along with 19 other Murkowski appointees to various government entities.
Democrats confirmed most of the appointments with little debate, but argued the appointment of Ruedrich constitutes a perceived conflict of interest.
"Given the fact that he's going to be operating as an Alaska oil and gas commissioner by day and potentially raising money from people he has oversight over by night, I think the public of this state will look upon that with disfavor," said Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French. "It just isn't right."
The three-member board of oil and gas commission acts as a quasi-judicial body, adjudicating disputes between developers of oil and gas resources. The commission also works to prevent surface and subsurface waste of oil and gas resources.
The position pays $118,000 a year. Ruedrich's term, which began in February, is set to expire in March 2006.
Sen. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, said federal laws would prohibit Ruedrich from raising contributions for state campaigns.
"And he has and will excuse himself from doing that," Ogan said. "He will simply deal with federal issues to remove the conflict."
But Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat, said federal and state issues such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and construction of a gas pipeline are inextricably linked.
Ellis also said if he were faced with a similar situation under the Knowles administration, he would not have voted to confirm a Democratic Party chairperson to the seat.
"... I would have stood with Republican members of the Legislature at that time and said, 'Absolutely not. That's a ridiculous appointment. It's not in the public interest. It's untenable. It's unfair to ask anyone to operate in that way. And it's an insult to the public's intelligence,' " Ellis said.
Rep. Bud Fate, a Fairbanks Republican, noted Ruedrich said he would resign as GOP head if there were a perceived conflict of interest.
Fate added that if Ruedrich resigned before being confirmed by the Legislature, he could miss out on both opportunities.
"If he resigns immediately, he may not have a job (in) either direction," Fate said.
Ruedrich, however, told the Associated Press that he would resign only if faced with a real conflict of interest.
In addition to the appointments of Palin and Ruedrich, the Legislature also confirmed the appointment of Attorney General Gregg Renkes and 15 commissioners to various departments in state government. The Legislature also sent five new members to the University of Alaska Board of Regents and two to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.