ANCHORAGE - Amid mounting pressure, Republican Party of Alaska chairman Randy Ruedrich resigned from his job as a state oil and gas regulator Saturday evening after meeting with Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Prominent state GOP leaders had demanded that Ruedrich be removed from either the party chairmanship or his position on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, saying to stay in both constituted a conflict of interest. Ruedrich said he did nothing wrong, but decided it was best to step down.
"After discussing the matter with the governor, I felt it was appropriate to tender my resignation of the oil and gas conservation commission, effective immediately," Ruedrich told The Associated Press soon after his phone meeting with Murkowski. "I think it's in the best interest of the Murkowski administration, the Republican party and my own personal interest."
Murkowski spokesman John Manly said no replacement on the commission has yet been named.
Ruedrich was one of three members of the commission, a quasi-judicial state agency that regulates oil and gas development. He also is active in the Republican party, including political fund raising from the industries he regulates.
Sarah Palin, chairwoman of the commission and also a well-known Republican, said Friday she might resign her job if the situation with Ruedrich was not resolved soon.
"It's distracting, it's confusing, it's frustrating," Palin told the Anchorage Daily News. "It's not fair to Alaskans to have these questions about a possible conflict hanging over the head of this agency."
Murkowski appointed both Palin and Ruedrich to the commission.
Tuckerman Babcock, a former state Republican Party chairman and current party central committee member, had said Ruedrich should resign from one post or the other. Babcock was on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission himself for three years in the mid-1990s.
Being party chairman is all about taking partisan positions, pushing candidates into office and raising money - sometimes from oil companies, said Babcock. And that cannot be separated from the commission job as a quasi-judical officer who regulates the activities of oil and gas companies, he said.
Ruedrich, as the Republican Party chairman, was one of the architects of Murkowski's election last fall. The following spring Murkowski appointed Ruedrich to the $118,000 commission job, noting Ruedrich's extensive background in the oil and gas industry.
Ruedrich said at the time he would take himself out of state fund raising, and focus on federal issues. He has remained involved in state politics, however.
In September, Ruedrich joined with oil executives from such companies as Conoco Phillips, BP and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., to co-host a fund-raiser for Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles' bid for re-election.
The clamor for Ruedrich to resign or to be fired swelled after his name showed up as party chairman and co-host for a fund-raiser for the state House Republican Majority Fund. He said later that he had not realized it was a fund-raiser.
A new national campaign finance reform law forbids members of the Republican National Committee - Ruedrich is a member - from raising funds for candidates for state office.
Ruedrich remains the official chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska but party officials said he has delegated work on state campaigns to vice chair Paulette Simpson. Saturday evening, he said he will focus his attention only on federal activities for the time being.
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