Gov. Bill Walker’s early foray into the Cook Inlet fish conflict soon after taking office has turned out to be ill-fated as Roland Maw, his one-time nominee to the Board of Fisheries, was charged with residency fraud just a week after a meeting with Walker and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.
Walker met with UCIDA and Maw, the former executive director of the commercial fishing group, on Jan. 6. On Jan. 13, Maw was hit with 12 felony charges and five misdemeanors for claiming Alaska residency to obtain Permanent Fund Dividends and resident rates for hunting and fishing permits.
Soon after Maw withdrew his name for consideration to the board last February, the State of Montana pressed similar charges against him a month later and he pled no contest in May 2015.
Walker says advisors have told him to stay away from fisheries politics, but from his perspective there are still ideas to discuss and people to see.
In a Jan. 26 interview, Walker said he’s been advised to steer clear of the so-called “fish wars” in Cook Inlet in particular, and to an extent he agrees, but said he still has two cents to throw into the Kenai River.
“With all that’s going on I should probably stay away from this issue in some respects, all that’s going on in the state as far as the deficit and the budget stuff, but this is a big issue,” said Walker. “When I see this kind of angst among different groups, that’s a process I want to focus on.”
Maw’s history with Walker predates his failed nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries in 2015 when Walker ousted board chair Karl Johnstone and named Maw as his replacement just days later on Jan. 20.
Maw supported Walker in his election campaign, both in fundraising capacity and in direct contributions. He, along with UCIDA president Dave Martin and several UCIDA board members, donated to Walker’s campaign, and was present at a Walker fundraiser in Kenai two days before the Nov. 4, 2014, election.
Between 2013 and 2014, Maw donated a total of $1,250 to Walker’s campaign. Walker’s campaign reimbursed Maw $150 on Sept. 29, 2014, for a pair of tickets to the United Fishermen of Alaska annual banquet and $100 for a non-monetary contribution of refreshments for a fundraiser on the Kenai Peninsula two days before Walker’s election according to public disclosures.
Due to Maw’s pending charges, Walker’s office said he could not comment on him.
“Because of the Department of Law’s charges against him, it would be inappropriate to discuss Roland Maw,” said Katie Marquette, Walker’s press secretary.
Apart from meeting with the Walker, Maw was present for an editorial meeting between the board and the Journal in October 2015 at UCIDA’s office in Soldotna.
The cover photo on UCIDA’s Facebook page is a photo of Walker and the UCIDA board along with Maw that was posted on Sept. 25, 2015, four months after Maw pled no contest to residency fraud in Montana.
UCIDA said Maw has no relationship with the board. He no longer serves as executive director of the board or in any kind of consultant capacity to the board.
UCDIA president Dave Martin said Maw only came “as a concerned fishermen” and holds no formal relationship with the organization.
“I think everyone is forgetting that the law says innocent until proven guilty, and that’s how people should treat him,” Martin said.
Walker said in a telephone interview he’s held dozens of meetings with fishing groups since entering office, as he wants to be equally accessible to all groups in order to facilitate discussion and solutions.
“We’ve met with anybody who wants to meet with us on fishing,” Walker said. “I’ve never turned down a request for a meeting on fish issues. I’ve met a lot of people in different positions with different positions. It’s been an open door for me.”
Board of Fisheries flap
The governor’s public involvement with Maw goes back to a choppy Board of Fisheries appointment process in 2015 that eventually revealed Maw’s Montana licensing charges and exposed gaps both in the vetting process and Walker’s knowledge of fish politics nuance.
The seven-member Board of Fisheries has a precarious balance; traditionally, three members represent the commercial fishing industry, three represent the sport fishing sector, and one represents the subsistence fishing community. Walker turned that balance on its head by replacing a sport representative, Johnstone, with a commercial representative in Maw.
Cook Inlet fish battles continue to rage about the board’s balance and its political agenda. Commercial advocates allege that sportfishing interests hold too much sway in setting allocations and management. Sportfishing industry voices say it’s only a perception, because the sportfishing sector is the relative newcomer to the Alaska fishing scene previously dominated by commercial interests.
Walker’s appointment of Maw in early 2015 split the political schism wide open.
In a joint meeting Jan. 14, the Boards of Fisheries and Game voted 7-7 against moving Maw forward to an interview for Department of Fish and Game commissioner.
The Board of Game voted unanimously that Maw was qualified to interview for the position, while the Board of Fisheries chaired by Johnstone voted unanimously that he was not qualified.
Public outcry followed, alleging that anti-commercial fishing politics had swayed the board to deny a qualified candidate an interview for the top job at ADFG.
Walker expressed outrage, drafting a letter to legislative leaders scorning the board’s failure to deem Maw qualified as a potential commissioner even though Walker had already made his preference known when he took office by naming Sam Cotten the interim ADFG commissioner.
“Today, I spoke with Chair Karl Johnstone and expressed my sincere disappointment in the recent lack of process demonstrated by the Board of Fisheries,” wrote Walker in a letter to House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. “I expect the Board of Fisheries to hold a fair, transparent, and public process when selecting candidates... It is apparent to me that it is time for a change on the Board of Fisheries.”
Walker told Johnstone he wouldn’t renew Johnstone’s appointment, which was set to expire June 30, 2015. Johnstone resigned instead of waiting for his term to end, and Walker quickly filled his absent position by appointing Maw to the seat, subject to Legislative confirmation.
The appointment backfired. Maw mysteriously withdrew his name from consideration on the day he was scheduled for a confirmation hearing on Feb. 20, only a few days before it became public that Montana was investigating him for hunting and fishing license fraud.
He pled no contest to the charges in May 2015, paid a grip of fines, and had his hunting and fishing privileges revoked in Montana. Montana is part of a network of Wildlife Violator Compact states, which honor such bans among them when implemented in another state. Alaska is a member of the compact.
With Maw withdrawn, Walker had to take a second crack at filling the board seat.
Walker nominated Robert Ruffner, a Kenai area conservationist and director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, a habitat restoration group. As with Maw, segments of the fishing world said the nomination disturbed the board’s balance of three commercial industry representatives, three sportfishing representatives, and one subsistence representative.
Sportfishing interest groups campaigned to paint Ruffner as sympathetic to the commercial fishing industry. The campaign was a success. The Legislature voted against approving him by a 30-29 vote, again to public outcry over the contentious politics of the Board of Fisheries.
On his third try, Walker’s office planned to make another board appointment the administration has not acknowledged. Days before the a board nomination was due, commercial fishing group United Fishermen of Alaska forwarded an email to members asking that they call Walker’s office to protest the pending nomination of Bobbi Quintavell.
Quintavell is the former senior vice president and chief operating officer of Alaska Native regional corporation Doyon Ltd., and past president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corp.
Quintavell’s fishing involvement is limited to her appearance in a Kenai River Sportfishing Association promotional video advocating king salmon conservation entitled “Save Our Kings.”
Walker’s office denied that it planned to nominate Quintavell to the position, but former Walker administration employees said the denial covers a hasty decision and an administration leak. Karen Gillis resigned as director of the governor’s Boards and Commissions office, insisting she did it specifically because Walker intended to nominate Quintavell to the board over Gillis’ objections she lacked fisheries experience.
On his fourth try, Walker nominated Bob Mumford, a former Board of Game member with no overt commercial or sportfishing fishing affiliations. Mumford has been serving on the Board of Fisheries ever since and is currently awaiting the approval of 2016 Legislature to continue the post.
Each governor, and each governor’s Boards and Commissions director, has a different method for vetting applicants. The process of digging into candidate part is largely case-by-case, according to several sources.
Gillis served as Walker’s Boards and Commissions director when Maw was nominated to the Board of Fisheries. Gillis did not respond to Journal requests to verify her vetting process at the time.
The current Boards and Commissions nomination process is largely subjective, according to Walker’s office, with no defined code or rubric for how appointees’ backgrounds are vetted.
Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff, John Hozey, who took the job in August 2015, months after the Board of Fisheries appointment fiasco, said the governor’s office usually checks a handful of open sources for boards and commissions appointments, including Courtview and social media. There is no concrete red flag that would prevent a nominee’s progress in moving forward; rather, staff judge each nominee individually.
“If someone were an axe murderer, I wouldn’t forward their name,” said Hozey. “It’s so subjective.”
Hozey said the office looks for “ anything that might indicate a lack of judgment,” or indicate a position the governor wouldn’t agree with.
“We don’t want anything coming up that’s going to embarrass the administration or the Legislature.”
The office does not generally check board and commission applicants’ PFD histories or criminal backgrounds from previous states of residency.
Walker’s fisheries involvement;
Kluberton off the board
Walker’s public interactions with Alaska’s fishing world have been limited. For fisheries knowledge, he leans in large part on Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, whom Walker appointed in 2015, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot.
At this point, he said he wants to be a facilitator for communication between user groups, particularly in Cook Inlet.
Walker said he has no concrete plans for fisheries, but that he has interest in establishing some kind of informal multi-user group fisheries advisory group similar to the federal Tongass Advisory Committee. The committee advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in young forest management, “emphasizing the need for collaborative, creative and publicly owned solutions to forest management on the Tongass,” according to the USDA website.
“I have a lot of faith in Alaskans being able to work things out amongst themselves,” said Walker. “Now is an appropriate time to look at these issues. If I can be a facilitator in some way, I think I’m willing to do that. I’m stepping into areas there’s a lot of passion.”
Walker’s “open door” policy means he’s met with dozens of fishing groups, but he said he seems to have had more meeting requests from commercial fishermen than other user groups.
“It would appear there’s been more interest as far as contacting me from some of the folks in the commercial groups, but they all have equal access to me.”
Apart from the Board of Fisheries flap in early 2015, the only official action he’s taken has been to write a letter to the Board of Fisheries asking that it move the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet board meeting from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. Since then, he said his insistence on the meeting’s location has shifted to “broader solutions.”
Walker wrote a letter to the board Oct. 21, 2015, asking it to consider changing the location and promising to attend if it were held on the Peninsula.
“There has been much attention given to the controversies surrounding the Cook Inlet fisheries, and I feel we should attempt to improve the communication and exchanges among the many interested parties,” wrote Walker. “Holding a meeting on the Peninsula, possibly Soldotna, may show a willingness to consider points of view from local residents who may not have been able to participate over the past five board cycles.”
Walker promised during his election campaign he would not renominate any Board of Fisheries member who voted against moving the meeting to the Kenai Peninsula. When asked if he plans on following through, Walker didn’t renew his promise, but referred back to his removal of Johnstone as board chairman.
“Certainly I removed an individual who was lobbying against moving the meeting to the Kenai Peninsula,” said Walker.
He said he has since changed his mind about the geographical importance of the meeting; public process is more important.
“What I have learned is where a particular meeting is held isn’t as important as people feel that the process is fair,” he said.
Walker’s promise to deny reappointment to Board of Fisheries members will have no conclusion, as a board member says he is stepping down voluntarily.
Tom Kluberton, a sportfishing representative and board chair, was among those who voted against moving the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting to the Kenai Peninsula at a December 2015 board meeting.
Along with commercial fisherman Fritz Johnson, who voted to move the meeting, Kluberton’s three-year term expires in June.
Kluberton confirmed in an email that he would not be resubmitting his name for another appointment. The $10,000 per year stipend isn’t worth the “mild PTSD” that can come from a single board meeting packed with impassioned fishermen, he wrote in an email. With the marathon Upper Cook Inlet meeting coming next year for whoever Walker names to replace Kluberton, all stakeholder groups will be watching closely.
“I am proud to have contributed to the task but cannot fit that much effort, for so little compensation, into my life without feeling the effects of the sacrifice on my family and myself,” wrote Kluberton.
“My second term ends this spring. I feel I earned my little bit of money; I have never worked harder, or withstood more stressful situations for less. I’m done.”
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]