Conflicts of interest

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

Numerous Legislators are tied to businesses that are impacted by legislation. When questioned about it, many of them say they can do what's best for the state despite what they acknowledge as conflicts of interest. Here are some examples:

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• Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee. Meyer introduced House Bill 238, regarding the state's spill prevention and response account. Meyer is employed by ConocoPhillips Co., one of the three major owners of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The spill response account is funded by a tax on oil flowing through the pipeline.

Meyer said his role is not improper because improving management of the program will benefit the entire state.

During Finance Committee meetings on the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which ConocoPhillips opposed, Meyer said he asked his co-chairman, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, to run the meetings. Chenault owns a Kenai Peninsula construction company that does oil field service work.

• Rep. Kyle Johansen,R-Ketchikan, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Last year the cruise ship industry fought a citizen initiative regulating and taxing the industry with a multimillion dollar advertising campaign. The industry kept fighting even after the initiative's passage by voters, trying to weaken it at the Legislature. Johansen introduced a bill, House Bill 164, which would downgrade the initiative's ocean rangers from U.S. Coast Guard-certified marine engineers to wastewater treatment technicians, such as those who run municipal sewage plants.

In the Legislative directory and his House Web page, Johansen lists his occupation as "ship agent." He offers more detail on his legislative financial disclosure form, filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, calling himself a "cruise ship agent."

Johansen did not respond to interview requests from the Juneau Empire.

• Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee's mission is to look at how the state should raise its revenue. No legislation raising oil tax rates was heard by the committee. At one point, a bill was proposed that called for the state to develop a long-term fiscal plan. But when House Bill 125 reached the House floor, Hawker objected to even doing a study of whether Alaska's oil and gas tax rates were lower than comparable jurisdictions.

The amendment was defeated with Hawker and other Republicans voting "no." Hawker's wife, Carol Carlson, is employed by ConocoPhillips in a job paying $113,365 a year, according to APOC reports.

Hawker said that presents no conflict that would prevent him from voting. The fact that his wife works for ConocoPhillips "is well known to everybody in this building, and fully disclosed to APOC," he said.

• Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Ramras owns Pike's Landing and other Fairbanks lodging and dining properties. Ramras regularly uses his chairmanship as a bully pulpit to criticize state officials on issues he thinks affect his business, including workers' compensation rates and alcohol and tobacco enforcement. Ramras' businesses also do significant work with cruise ship companies such as Royal Caribbean and Princess cruise lines, providing his company with 60 percent of his room rentals and 40 percent of his total income.

Ramras said he avoided dealing with certain issues because of that, and he relinquished control of the committee he chairs at times.

"All the cruise ship bills that came through Judiciary (committee) , I gave away the gavel because I didn't want the appearance of impropriety," he said.

That didn't prevent Ramras from sponsoring a bill, House Bill 222, providing a credit for taxes paid to municipalities, reducing taxes paid by cruise ship companies.

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