Alaska editorial: Red face test failed

Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Gov. Sean Parnell says he acted on the advice of his Department of Law when he offered then-Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom the job of special adviser for military affairs. That same Department of Law is taking a longer, second look at its advice, and for good reason.

The appointment may violate a provision in the Alaska Constitution.

Gov. Parnell made a similar appointment of then state Sen. Gene Therriault to a newly created job as special adviser for energy in 2009. And Gov. Parnell is not a trailblazer here; some of the governor’s predecessors have done the same. Here’s what the state constitution says:

“During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member.”

Pretty straightforward. The idea is to prevent conflicts of interest, temptations to vote a certain way or to create jobs or raise salaries with the expectation that a lawmaker will soon be doing that job and drawing that salary.

Gov. Parnell and others have gotten around that provision by not actually creating the job until after the legislator resigns. That’s what happened in the case of former Rep. Dahlstrom. Legislative attorney Tam Cook issued an opinion that said this was legal. So the governor offers the lawmaker a job that doesn’t exist yet. The lawmaker accepts the job that doesn’t exist yet. The lawmaker resigns. Now the job exists. The former lawmaker begins the job.

We are not lawyers. But we think that any reasonably intelligent citizen will conclude that this is a crock, and hardly the law-abiding example we expect our governor to set. We have here a corner-cutting exercise that nods to the letter of the law while kicking the spirit of the law in the teeth.

Within broad limits and his budget, Gov. Parnell is free to create new positions in his administration. We question the need for this position as the governor describes it — to build community support for our military. Show us a state that supports its military more wholeheartedly than Alaska, a state which could field six or seven divisions of veterans before we ever started counting reserves, National Guard and active duty troops. Nevertheless, the governor has the authority to create the job.

But why pick a sitting legislator? The governor has responded angrily to criticism, but the very fact that he’s had to use a ploy to get around the constitution should tell him that he shouldn’t be doing it.

There’s no doubt Rep. Dahlstrom believes in the military and wants to maintain its strong presence here. No one had suggested there was any deal involved in her appointment. But there’s also no doubt that Gov. Parnell should have broken bad precedent, respected the spirit of the constitution and not offered her the job.

Governor’s appointment of Nancy Dahlstrom to adviser’s job violates spirit of constitutional provision.

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