Senator may hold seat unconstitutionally

Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

JUNEAU - A state senator may be unconstitutionally holding a seat on a state advisory panel.

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is in his sixth year serving in the Alaska Legislature and as a public, voting member of the Alaska Boating Safety Advisory Council.

That may violate the separation of powers doctrine implied in the state constitution. The doctrine has been fleshed out in decades-old Supreme Court case law and opinions from the Department of Law.

Department spokesman Bill McAllister said it's "worth a fresh look," but had no definitive answer on Dyson's situation or a timeline for resolution. McAllister said there have been at least six department opinions on the topic, with the most recent in 1996.

Dyson holds a public seat with voting powers, unlike legislators serving on other state boards and commissions.

Dyson, a charter boat operator, marine science consultant and former commercial fisherman, said his board membership has never been an issue and that he declares a conflict of interest when the council comes up in the Legislature. He did so this year when the Legislature extended the life of the council and the associated Office of Boating Safety.

The membership issue came up during the legislative session. Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, sponsored a bill trying to further separate members of state boards, commissions and authorities from elected offices. It would have required board members to resign appointed posts before declaring candidacy for elected office and raising campaign money.

Doogan said he was aware of Dyson's situation, but that the bill, which died when the session ended April 18, was not about anyone in particular.

"Apparently, nobody's really looked at it until I took a look," Doogan said. Lawmakers on state boards should not be able to vote, he said. "As a matter of practice, it's just a bad idea."

His concern, he said, is the potential for someone to trade influence on a board for political gain.

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