Alaska Republicans expects no fallout from leaders' missteps

Posted: Sunday, December 04, 2005

JUNEAU - The Reagan legacy of the Teflon Republican is alive and well in Alaska.

Both the House speaker and Senate president were fined this week by the state commission that oversees financial activities of elected officials. It's the latest in a string of Alaska GOP scandals, misdeeds and missteps that stretches back to 2003, when party chairman Randy Ruedrich broke ethics laws by using his state Oil & Gas Conservation Commission office to conduct party business.

But while next year is an election year, Republican leaders and political watchers alike say not to expect a backlash at the polls.

"I think if we ask folks a couple of weeks from now, 90 percent of them aren't even going to remember it happened," Ruedrich said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

Ruedrich was speaking of the penalties levied against House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, and Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for breaking state laws regulating campaign contributions and financial disclosures.

Democratic pollster Ivan Moore said Ruedrich's point was well taken.

"I hate to say I agree with Randy Ruedrich, but would I say this APOC decision has caused a cumulative effect on top of the damage done by the Randy Ruedrich affair and the Gregg Renkes affair and the jet affair? No. It's probably small potatoes in comparison," he said.

Renkes, Gov. Frank Murkowski's former attorney general, resigned in February, citing continuing attacks that he allegedly used his position to shape a coal deal between the state and Taiwan that could have benefited a company in which he owned stock.

And the $2.7 million jet recently purchased by the state to shuttle Murkowski when it's not being used for prisoner transport has generated public outcry.

This week's fines against Harris and Stevens were slaps on the wrist: Harris was penalized $693 for spending nearly $7,000 in campaign money to stump for other Republicans and to lobby lawmakers in his bid for House speaker. Stevens received a $150 fine for not listing his chairmanship of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board on his financial disclosure statement.

Stevens' $150 penalty was reduced from a $2,120 maximum fine. Harris' fine could have been $67,950, but APOC's staff recommended waiving a penalty because the speaker had cooperated with them. The commissioners settled on $693.

"A fine by APOC is really kind of analogous to taking a Blockbuster video back late," Moore said. "There are very rare occasions when somebody gets dinged with something serious. I don't think people looked at this as very serious at all."

Steve Cleary, the director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, said the fines appeared to be "ridiculously low" and he wanted to know how the commission's staff arrived at their recommendations.

"Whatever way the fines are determined, they seem too low to provide adequate deterrence," Cleary said. "I appreciate what (Commissioner John) Dapcevich said ... but a $690 fine or a $150 fine seems that they are getting away without punishment."

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