Sport group sinks Gov's Board of Fisheries nomination
JUNEAU — Following an intense lobbying campaign by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Anchorage and upper Railbelt Republicans led the legislature’s rejection of the reappointment of two-term Board of Fisheries member Claude “Vince” Webster on April 8.
KRSA announced its opposition to Webster at his April 1 Senate Resources Committee meeting. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease and constant companion Reuben Hanke, a Kenai River fishing guide, were seen through the rest of the week visiting lawmakers’ offices.
Neither is a registered lobbyist and Rep. Peggy Wilson, a Wrangell Republican and Webster supporter, said after the joint confirmation session she was considering filing a complaint against them for lobbying beyond the 10-hour limit on unregistered lobbyists.
[Clarification: Reuben Hanke is not listed in the 2013 registered lobbyist directory. Hanke is classified as a “representational lobbyist” by Kenai River Sportfishing Association and is not required to file as a "registered lobbyist." The difference between a representational lobbyist and a registered lobbyist is that representational lobbyists may only be compensated for travel expenses. Representational lobbyists are also not subject to the 10-hour limit on lobbying for unregistered lobbyists. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease may not exceed the 10-hour limit. In a statement to the Journal after publication, Gease said he had not exceeded the 10-hour limit. Gease and KRSA Board Chairman Eldon Mulder declined to be interviewed by Tkacz in the preparation of this article.]
Several lawmakers said before the 29-30 vote, that they were sending a message to ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell and her biologists.
“In many cases it was a vote against the Department of Fish and Game and some of the governor’s appointees. Not just Board of Fish appointees but department staff and Commissioner Campbell,” said Chugiak Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze, who led the attack against Webster during the annual joint House floor session.
In a hearing last week Stoltze said it was a “no-brainer” that ADFG is biased in favor of the seafood industry.
“The constituency I represent are highly frustrated by the lack of fish and the quality of fishing. They’re essentially saying, ‘lets deliver a message to people that are involved in the whole fishery process, to include nomination, that we want the fish to come first,’” said Senate President Charlie Huggins of Wasilla.
Webster was the only one of 88 board and commission appointees who was not confirmed. He is also the only one of three board appointees who is a commercial fisherman. Reappointees Tom Kluberton, a Talkeetna lodge owner, and Reed Morisky, a new appointee and Fairbanks fishing guide, were confirmed without objection.
Webster, a Bristol Bay set and gillnet fisherman, completes his term on the board June 30.
Objections were voiced during the session to the confirmations of Game Board reappointees Peter Probasco and Nathan Turner, former Anchorage police chief Mark Mew to the Alaska Police Standards Council and Gloria O’Neill to the University of Alaska Anchorage board of regents. After lawmakers discussed their concerns they withdrew their objections and none cast opposition votes.
In Webster’s case, 19 of the 21 opposing House votes and six of nine in the Senate came from Anchorage, Mat-Su and Fairbanks area Republicans.
“It is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state,” Parnell said in a prepared statement.
Neither the governor’s office nor commercial fishing organizations backing Webster appeared to realize the extent of the opposition, and effort, against Webster. Heather Brakes, the governor’s legislative liaison and Jason Hooley, director of boards and commissions, began talking to lawmakers on April 4, the date KRSA sent the first of two “IMMEDIATE CALL TO ACTION” emails were sent to supporters urging them to contact their representatives and senators.
Mike Nizich, the governor’s chief of staff, sent every legislator an email and some said he contacted them personally.
Nizich’s letter listed three allegations against Webster, calling them “misleading, incomplete and in some cases inaccurate statements about Webster’s work on the board.
“His confirmation should not be blocked due to misinformation,” Nizich’s letter concluded.
The three complaints, as described by Nizich, were that Webster “is supposedly singlehandedly responsible for the new late-run Kenai River chinook escapement goal (and) allegedly reframed” the debate on the Kenai chinook management plan “to benefit setnetters at the expense of all other user groups and escapement” and that he “allegedly drives a personal agenda through unseemly means.”
“The Governor never would have re-appointed him had if he believed such allegations were true,” Nizich wrote.
Nonetheless, Stoltze, among others, leveled those same points in their floor comments. Webster’s supporters noted that state law assigns the task of identifying the appropriate escapement range to ADFG and that the board is required to adopt the department’s recommendation.
Chickaloon Rep. Eric Feige, the only Interior Republican in the House who voted to confirm Webster, noted that the board adopted the new escapement range on a 7-0 vote, obviously including Reed Morisky and Tom Kluberton, the other board appointees who were being confirmed.
Feige also said of his visit from KRSA, “I kind of felt like I was being intimidated to change my vote.”
“I don’t think anybody agrees to any of the character assassination that has been made of Mr. Webster,” said Anchorage Rep. Les Gara, one of six Democrats, three from each body, voting against Webster.
Gara also noted his displeasure with ADFG calling it, “ a department, in many circumstances, that has erred on the side of low escapement.”
The term “escapement” refers to the number of salmon needed to reach their spawning beds to assure sustainability of the stock. Lowering escapement, which is expressed as a range, generally means harvest levels are higher.
Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected].