Dunleavy records clean sweep, secures Legislature backing on 13 cabinet choices
The Legislature on Wednesday approved all 13 of Gov. Dunleavy’s cabinet nominations in a joint hearing to also consider board and commission appointments.
Of the nearly 100 nominations, six failed to get the requisite 31 votes during the eight-hour hearing.
As Dunleavy continued getting support, lawmakers delayed a Board of Fisheries vote on former Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.
Already considered to be a contentious vote, Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said he didn’t feel it was right to leave Johnstone in limbo; lawmakers voted 33-24 against.
A handful of cabinet members barely cleared the minimum 31-vote threshold needed for approval.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune’s nomination generated some of the longest debate before lawmakers approved his post, 35-24. Critics said Brune deemed Fairbanks area drinking water safe that the department ruled unsafe just last fall.
They also say Brune should not have removed the words “control water, land and air pollution” from the department’s mission statement.
“Alaskans deserve a DEC commissioner who is not going to manipulate scientific data, disregard career scientists in his own department, and endanger Alaskan lives by declaring poisoned water to be safe,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. “Alaskans deserve a DEC Commissioner who is not going to modify the department’s policy statement to minimize the department’s responsibility to control water, air and land pollution.”
Supporters, however, say Brune’s work history with the Anglo-American mining company, Resource Development Council, Cook Inlet Region Inc. speak to qualifications that warrant support.
“He has private-sector experience, Alaska relations across all sectors and he ensures that the voices are heard in a timely, legally defensible, and scientifically based permitting process for the DEC,” said Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage.
Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price was thought to be the most vulnerable. She had a hearing less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s vote — all set against the backdrop of the administration’s paid social media ads and a news conference with Price flanked by her staff.
“I support her because public safety officers do,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. “I support her because I know she will make priorities here that we need. We need take care of our women being abused and we need a leader who is going to do that and I truly believe she will be the one to do that.”
Vivian Stiver fell one vote short of securing a spot on the Marijuana Control Board. Critics said Stiver would be a prohibitionist assigned to regulate an industry she’s long opposed; supporters said she would bring diversity to the five-person board.
Those getting unanimous backing were: Commerce Commissioner Julie Anderson; Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom; Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter; Military & Veterans Affairs Commissioner, Adj. Gen. Torrence Saxe; Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige.
The votes brought an end to some spirited confirmation hearings these last few months and several candidate withdrawals, forcing Dunleavy to make new appointments since the session began Jan. 15.
Johnathan Quick, Dunleavy’s first appointment as Department of Administration, was forced to withdraw after the Senate Finance Committee discovered inaccuracies in his resume and found he may have lied during his confirmation hearing.
That same January day, Art Chance withdrew consideration as a policy adviser for the Department of Administration after questionable social media posts written by Chance surfaced. No direct connection to the posts and his withdrawal was made.
Dunleavy also watched Tammy Randolph withdraw her name for seat on the University Alaska Board of Regents. It followed published reports of Randolph’s Twitter account featuring retweets of posts deemed inappropriate.
Former House candidate Joe Riggs also withdrew consideration to serve at the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s board of trustees. He stepped down after a published report had Riggs under scrutiny from an employee’s complaint over behavior at a Juneau bar.
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