Juneau delegates split on nominee

Cathy Muñoz the only Southeast representative to give Ross thumbs up

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009

Juneau's legislative delegation split on the controversial rejection of Wayne Anthony Ross to be Alaska's Attorney General. One said she was troubled by some of his past comments, while the other believes some of the statements attributed to him were untrue.

House Minority Leader Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, spoke out on the floor against Ross, a favorite of urban gun advocates but who faced strong opposition from Alaska Natives. She called some of Ross' statements "deeply troubling." She said his views toward women were "less than I would have hoped."

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, voted in Ross' favor, but was the only legislator from Southeast Alaska to do so.

Muñoz said she met with Ross twice, and was convinced that he was a strong defender of the state's constitution and personal rights, and was no longer concerned that he did not support Native Alaskans or subsistence hunting and fishing.

"He told me that he believes fish and game should be managed for abundance, and he is a supporter of subsistence," she said.

Muñoz said she did not ask Ross about his comments in the past calling gays "degenerates," but said that Ross firmly denied making some statements viewed as misogynistic that were attributed to him.

"He very adamantly denies making any of those statements," she said. "I take his word for it that what was attributed to him was not true."

The state's female legislators voted 7-6 in favor of confirming Ross.

Kerttula and Muñoz are Juneau's two members of the House of Representatives. It currently has no member of the Senate, as Gov. Sarah Palin and Senate Democrats have been disputing who should be appointed to that seat.

That dispute, and Ross' controversial tenure as Attorney General of about two weeks, may have contributed to his unprecedented rejection by the Legislature.

A Legislative Legal Services attorney said an appointment by Palin of three people to the Senate seat, two of which had earlier been rejected, was improper and did not comply with state law. Ross said they should be confirmed anyway.

He told the Empire that senators were getting "bogged down on technicalities" and should simply confirm Palin's appointee, Tim Grussendorf. He made similar statements to other media.

Thursday morning, Ross sent a letter to legislators denying having made the comments.

"I have been advised that there is now a rumor circulating that I have advocated or implied that the law should be ignored when the Senate takes up the issue of approving the Governor's appointment to fill the vacant Senate seat for Juneau," he wrote. "That rumor is totally false."

Those statements were cited by some legislators before they voted against Ross, and before the vote Ross said his statements regarding the Juneau Senate seat appointment might play a role in the vote.

Just a few days ago most legislators were predicting Ross would win confirmation, before the Juneau Senate seat issue blew up again.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said Ross' denial that he said the law should be ignored, rather than admitting to having made a mistake, did not reflect well on him.

French, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that twice when the state's lawyers were polled they found Ross to be unqualified for appointment as a judge.

Ross has said Palin's triple appointment for the Juneau Senate seat was legal, a position other attorneys disagreed with. But he said that if confirmed, he would thoroughly analyze that area of law.

French said for Ross to make a legal judgment requested by Palin before studying the issue "removes any doubt about whether Mr. Ross will be standing up to the governor."

After the vote Ross said he had "no idea" whether it played a role in his defeat.

All Southeast legislators other than Muñoz opposed Ross, including top Republicans, Rep. Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan, Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka, and Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, and Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, both spoke out against Ross on the floor.

Both are Alaska Native, and Kookesh said the Native community could not support Ross "because of the past history and dealings with this gentleman."

All of the Native legislators voted against confirming Ross.

Support for Ross came mostly from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough, and the city of North Pole.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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