Retiring Sen. Jerry Mackie, a Craig Republican, has been appointed to the board of directors of a new tour company created by a major cruise line that paid heavy fines for polluting coastal waters off Alaska.
Royal Caribbean International says it wants Mackie for his understanding of state government as well as business and tourism to help a new subsidiary develop excursions for the Interior.
Critics are concerned the company is just after his influence.
Mackie, who lives in Juneau, joins former Fairbanks state Sen. Steve Frank and tourism entrepreneur Tom Tougas of Seward on the six-person board of newly formed Royal Celebrity Tours.
"These board members provide the perfect mix of solid experience and political acumen, as well as a firm knowledge of Alaska and its diverse travel and tourism industries," RCI president Jack Williams said in a statement released Thursday. Williams also will sit on the new board.
Mackie, who completes his legislative term Jan. 8, recoiled at the idea his appointment could be a breach of legislative ethics or a conflict of interest.
"The first meeting of the board won't take place until after I'm out of office," he said. "And furthermore, state law does not allow former legislators to lobby for at least a year, so where's the conflict?"
Haines resident Tim June ponders the same question.
June, a commercial fisherman and clean-water activist, ran as a Democrat this fall in a bid for Mackie's Senate seat. He lost in the general election to Kodiak Republican Rep. Alan Austerman.
While he feels there's "gray area" with the state's legal definitions on ethics, June believes the intent is clear: Public servants should not profit personally from their legislative influence.
"If Jerry had waited a year, I would be much more comfortable with it," June said. "I would ask myself if I would do the same thing in the same circumstance, and the answer is no."
"He would never be asked in the first place," Mackie countered. "It's obvious he doesn't know me very well, and it's no surprise he would have negative comments about me because I endorsed his opponent in the race to succeed me."
RCI is also the parent company of Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. The latter was fined $6.5 million in 1999 for pollution violations in Southeast Alaska waters. Royal Caribbean is in negotiations with the state on pollution monitoring.
June was a vocal critic of the illegal dumping by cruise ships.
Mackie said he also was angry about the pollution and he applauds June for his work on clean-water issues.
"We share many of the same concerns," Mackie said. "I've been a commercial fisherman and a sportfishing lodge owner, and I am an Alaska Native who is greatly concerned about the subsistence lifestyle, so I care about the quality of the environment.
"Some of these companies made mistakes, but Royal Caribbean is an example of a company that wants to do the right things and be a good corporate citizen in Alaska."
RCI recently announced its ships would not be returning to Haines.
The company called it an economic decision, but some Haines residents said the move was political retaliation against a town that saw dockside protests and other anti-cruise ship activity after the cruise line admitted two years ago it dumped oily bilge water and other pollutants.
"I just heard about it Thursday, when I got called by a reporter," Mackie said of Royal Caribbean's decision to bypass Haines. "I didn't know about it."
Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, understands why a major player in the visitor industry would want Mackie on its board.
"Jerry was the Senate point person for restructuring of the tourism marketing initiative for the state of Alaska, and he has a good understanding of the interaction between the state and tourism," Elton said.
Royal Celebrity Tours will focus on developing land-based excursions, but Mackie could be asked to discuss "tangential" issues that may involve ships, said John Fox, RCI vice president for governmental affairs. For example, he said, the company may need to bring more cruise ships to Seward to increase tours to the Interior.
The RCT board will meet about twice a year. Mackie could be paid up to $1,000, in addition to his travel costs and other expenses for each meeting.
"It's just a nominal payment, we haven't nailed down any details yet," Fox said.
There are few restrictions on the business dealings of state lawmakers.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission requires legislators to disclose their financial relationships at the start of each session, which won't be an issue for Mackie because his term ends in January.
The state ethics code prohibits lawmakers from lobbying the Legislature for one year after leaving office.
"The code is silent on lobbying the administration," said Susan Barnett, administrator for the legislative ethics committee.
Mackie was hired earlier this year as the state government affairs manager for Alyeska Pipeline Services Co. He's responsible for communicating the company's position to state and local government agencies, and informing lawmakers about Alyeska projects.
"There's a big difference between lobbying and just providing information," Mackie said. "Lobbying is when you push to have something introduced, or urge a lawmaker to vote for or against something. That's not what I'll be doing."
Elton does not see a problem for Mackie, as long as he observes that "bright line" between what's legal and not legal.
"Jerry has been one of those people that draws a real bright line between his official duties and duties that may create a conflict of interest," Elton said. "He is as sensitive as anybody in the Legislature, and more than some."
Mackie and Frank think serving on the new tour board will only help the state.
"I'm impressed that they think it's good to have Alaskans on their board," said Frank, the former state senator who owns the River's Edge Resort in Fairbanks.
"The more Alaskans involved in some of these corporations, the more they'll be responsive to Alaska issues and needs," Mackie said.
Mike Sica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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