Legislature again refuses to vote on appointees

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The Legislature has rebuffed Gov. Tony Knowles a second time on confirmation of appointments to boards.

Called back into joint session by Knowles at 5 p.m. today, following an abrupt adjournment Monday night that left 13 appointees dangling, the Republican-led majority reconvened and promptly adjourned.

With only one Republican dissent, from Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell, the Legislature voted 40-19 not to take up the Democratic governor's appointments to the boards of fisheries and game, the University of Alaska board of regents and the state Board of Education.

Knowles spokesman Bob King said afterward that the lack of action was typical, given the record on a long-range fiscal plan, incentives for a natural gas pipeline and a package of veterans issues.

"I think the inaction they took the lack of a vote is going to be the legacy of this Legislature, and a shameful one at that," King said. "This is going to be the sad hallmark of this Legislature."

On Monday night, the House and Senate abruptly adjourned their joint session before taking up what are traditionally the most controversial appointments.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, said then that the Republican majority legislators wanted to allow the next governor to make the appointments.

"It was the most productive way to deal with what a majority of people wanted," Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman of Anchorage said this afternoon. "I don't know that it accomplishes anything to say who hatched the plan."

But asked about a rumor that U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, a Republican candidate for governor, requested inaction on the appointments, Leman said he had not talked to Murkowski about that.

Sen. Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican, said that adjourning without taking action was a good move because "you avoid the debate on the floor."

King said the administration might test a new "legal theory." By statute, the governor's appointments die at the end of a regular legislative session. But that might be trumped by the constitutional requirement for the Legislature to exercise its power of confirmation, King said.

"It would be interesting to see where that might go," he said. Adding the confirmation issue to an already announced special session on subsistence beginning Wednesday is "a possibility," he said.

Knowles blasted the Legislature's action, calling it a disservice to Alaskans willing to volunteer for public service.

"In closed political party caucuses, the majority apparently put election-year politics ahead of democracy," Knowles said in a written statement.

"The legislative majority's act, if left to stand, will cripple vital state boards, Knowles said. "At a minimum, the citizens who stepped forward to serve their fellow Alaskans deserve a vote, up or down."

Kott said some of the appointments, such as members of the board of regents, would last through 2009.

"You probably want to let that next person (governor) make the appointment for someone who's going to be around for six or eight years," Kott said.

Knowles' term ends this year, and he cannot run for a third consecutive term.

Republicans hope Murkowski will be elected governor this fall. He is expected to face Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat, in the November election.

After the joint session Monday, Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, urged the House to reconsider.

"Governors are elected to serve an entire four-year term, and during that four-year term they're entitled to make the appointments they want to make," Berkowitz said.

The vote to adjourn without acting on the final appointments fell along party lines in the Senate. The only members of the House Republican majority caucus to vote against adjourning were Juneau Republican Bill Hudson, Anchorage Republican Andrew Halcro, and Nome Democrat Richard Foster.

Kott said Knowles could make new interim appointments to those boards, but they would have to be confirmed by the next Legislature after the next governor is elected.

Those not confirmed were:

Board of Fisheries: Brett Huber of Soldotna, a former aide to Senate President Rick Halford; Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg; and Art Nelson of Anchorage.

Board of Game: Bruce Baker of Juneau, George Matz of Anchorage, J. Dana Pruhs of Anchorage, Caleb Pungowiyi of Kotzebue, and Michelle Sparck of Bethel.

University of Alaska board of regents: Mark Begich of Anchorage, Joseph Hardenbrook of Fairbanks, and Marlene Johnson of Juneau.

Board of Education and Early Development: Roger Chan of Anchorage and Sally Rue of Juneau.

Empire staff writer Bill McAllister contributed to this article.

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