A Texas man might of had trouble being confirmed by Alaska lawmakers this week, but a bill which passed the Legislature Tuesday has likely cleared the path.
House Bill 383 was approved by the Senate Tuesday by a 13-7 margin. It cleared the House last week 27-12.
The bill allows the governor to appoint nonresidents to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board. It also resolves a conflict between state law and the Alaska Constitution. Under state statute, only Alaska residents can serve on state boards and commissions. The constitution has no prohibition against out-of-state appointments: Its only requirement is U.S. citizenship.
In September, Gov. Sean Parnell exercised his authority under the constitution to appoint Richard Rabinow of Houston, Texas to the AGDC board.
Rabinow is retired from ExxonMobil, where he was president of Exxon’s pipeline company.
Democrats have objected to Rabinow’s appointment, based on state law and what they see as an attempt by the governor to tilt the makeup of the board in favor of the oil industry, specifically Exxon.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, cast one of the opposing votes Tuesday.
“I would feel much more comfortable having someone who is an Alaskan, who is going to err on the side of Alaska and not err on the side of Houston, Texas; who is going to err on the side of Alaska and not the oil industry,” Wielechowski said.
AGDC is a state agency which will have a key role in a state partnership with oil producers and a pipeline company to build a liquefied natural gas project, one in which Exxon will take the lead. If that project falls through, AGDC will oversee the construction of a smaller volume, in-state natural gas pipeline to deliver gas to Alaska consumers.
Parnell said Rabinow’s appointment brings expertise on pipeline construction to the AGDC board.
“He’s by far the most qualified person on the board, when it comes to actual experience putting together a large gas project,” Parnell said. “The other Alaskan board members have been very supportive of the gentleman and say he does bring an extreme amount of wisdom to the table on behalf of Alaska.”
House Speaker Mike Chenault, along with Rep. Mike Hawker, introduced HB 383 because they said they didn’t want to lose Rabinow from the board.
“If we hadn’t passed this piece of legislation, he would have failed at confirmation,” said Chenault, who believes Rabinow would have withdrawn from the board had the bill failed.
The House and the Senate will meet in a joint session Thursday to confirm a long list of appointments the governor has made since the 2013 session.
It takes 31 votes for an appointment to be confirmed — and now that the HB 383 has passed, Chenault believes Rabinow’s appointment will meet the necessary threshold.
“That’s the guy we want on a project of this magnitude, because there are going to be multiple million-dollar decisions made in the next few years on this pipeline,” Chenault said.
Wielechowski said passage of HB 383 represents a philosophical difference.
He said the state statute on boards and commissions was created to protect Alaskan interests.
“This is exactly what Bob Bartlett warned us about at the Constitutional Convention: Be very careful of outsiders coming and trying to control our state,” Wielechowski said.
Bartlett was Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress and later a U.S. senator.
“If there’s one thing Alaskans really hate it’s outsiders — whether it’s the government, private corporations — telling Alaskans what to do,” Wielechowski said. “I think it’s a dangerous path to go down.”
The governor said he has no worries about Rabinow’s ability to fulfill his duties on the AGDC board.
“I asked him that question when I interviewed him, whether he could make decisions in the best interest of the state of Alaska,” Parnell said. “He absolutely assured me he could. He also gave me examples of other boards he served on, where he owes that same duty to other boards.”
Only two other state corporations, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and the Alaska Railroad, have an exemption allowing nonresidents to serve on their boards. Once the governor signs the bill into law, AGDC will become the third state agency to do so.