State hearings continue on Ross for AG nomination

Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ross, Gov. Sarah Palin's designee for Alaska attorney general, faced mostly congenial questions at his confirmation hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, but he didn't directly answer Holmes when she asked if he stood by a 1993 letter to the Alaska Bar Association newsletter, in which he used words such as "immoral," "degenerates" and "perversion" for homosexuality.

Ross implied the question was irrelevant.

"My personal opinions have nothing to do with the job," Ross said. "The attorney general is not going to give his opinion on those sorts of things."

Holmes said the characterizations were upsetting to her, and to her straight and gay constituents. Ross tried to reassure her with an analogy: He said he hates lima beans.

"If I was hired to represent the United Vegetable Growers, would you ask me if I liked lima beans?" Ross asked. "No. Would I tell you if I disliked lima bean? No, because my job is to represent the United Vegetable Growers.

"My job is now to represent the people of Alaska - all the people, and so I'm not going to tell you if I like people that wear orange ties and I'm not going to tell you about other people I don't like. They're all my clients. I've got a different hat on right now. If I get fired by the United Vegetable Association, I'll go back to publicly hating lima beans."

Holmes did not crack a smile. She said afterward it was not the answer she was looking for.

"I can't look my constituents who have concerns in the eye and tell them that I was reassured," Holmes said.

The folksy Ross is expected to be confirmed when the state House and Senate vote Thursday.

Questions from Republican Majority committee members mostly focused on how Ross might address nagging problems from as high gasoline and heating oil prices, to prosecutors' emphasis on felons and the exclusion of attention to misdemeanants.

At times, Ross refused to give an opinion, such as whether Palin was out of line when she made a public appearance in a coat that displayed the logo of a snowmobile manufacturer. An ethics complaint was filed over the matter.

Committee Chairman Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, who frequently jousts with Palin, asked Ross whether it would be appropriate for Palin to be gone from the state on an extended book tour if she cashed in on her national celebrity, wrote an autobiography and left for weeks.

"I would look forward to an opinion from the Department of Law on that point, whether the Department of Law will endorse the executive writing a book and taking a multi-city book tour while she is serving in the capacity of chief executive," Ramras said.

Ross indicated that opinion was not likely to be immediately forthcoming.

"I think I have a lot more important issues as attorney general then deciding whether or not the governor should write a book," he said.

"I didn't ask you if she should write a book, I asked if she could take prolonged absences from the state of Alaska on a book tour," Ramras said.

"I don't have all the knowledge of the issues facing the Department of Law," Ross said. "When it comes time that I have plenty of extra time for such things, I'll certainly devote the time appropriate to such things."

Ross flatly denied the truthfulness of a letter submitted by a former Anchorage resident who claimed that Ross in 1991 spoke to a group called "Dads Against Discrimination" and made comments about a husband's right to rape his wife.

In a letter distributed to all legislators, and in his comments, Ross denied being at such a meeting. He said he doesn't talk like that and he abhors such a thought.

"When I saw this statement," he said of the confirmation process, "I stopped having a good time."

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, questioned Ross on his political statements during two runs for governor, including a promise to challenge provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Herron asked Ross if he would be giving a political litmus test to prospective attorneys.

Ross said no and pointed to a law partner, Ed Miner, as someone with different political views with whom he has successfully collaborated.

"Every position that I hold on politics, he holds the opposite, yet we work well together," Ross said.

Ross' nomination has been strongly opposed by Alaska Native groups for his opposition to federal law that gives rural residents a preference in subsistence hunting and fishing. Herron asked Ross what role tribes should play in child welfare cases.

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