Walker takes office, brings back Palin's oil and gas team
New Gov. Bill Walker took office Monday and ordered immediate changes in top echelons of state government. Walker replaced former Gov. Sean Parnell, who he defeated by a razor-thin margin in the Nov. 4 Alaska elections.
As of noon Monday, out were state several state commissioners and deputy commissioners including Joe Balash at the Department of Natural Resources, Susan Bell at Commerce and Economic Development, Bill Streur at the Department of Health and Social Services, Cora Campbell at the Department of Fish and Game, and Diane Blumer at the Department of Labor.
In agencies engaged in oil and gas issues and the big natural gas project, Walker brought back several officials from the administration of former Gov. Sarah Palin.
These include Marty Rutherford, one of the architects of Palin’s failed Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA, as acting resources commissioner and as permanent deputy commissioner, a position Rutherford held under Palin; and Marcia Davis, former deputy revenue commissioner under Palin and now acting commissioner of revenue.
Davis was a strong critic of state oil tax changes made by former Gov. Sean Parnell.
Rutherford will be acting commissioner until Mark Myers, who Walker early appointed as DNR Commissioner, can wrap up affairs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he is Vice Chancellor for Research. Myers was also a strong critic of Parnell’s oil tax change.
On Rutherford, Walked said, “Marty is a natural fit for this position. I know and trust Marty. She will hit the ground running and do an outstanding job.”
Davis will likewise be in charge at the Revenue Department until Randy Hoffbeck, Walker’s appointee for revenue commissioner, arrives back in Alaska from an extended overseas commitment.
There are reports that Davis is being considered for another senior position in the Walker administration.
Walker also named Valarie Davidson, a widely-respected advocate of rural health care, to be commissioner of the Dept. of Health and Social Services, replacing Streur.
Davidson is currently head of government relations for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Sam Cotten, a former legislator and Speaker of the House, was named to be acting commissioner of Fish and Game. Walker also said Cotten is being considered for the permanent position.
Cotten is a commercial fisherman with wide experience in regulatory issues affecting fishing, and was formerly a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
Under state law, the ADFG commissioner is appointed by the governor from a list of qualified persons nominated by the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game meeting in joint session, subject to the right of the governor to request additional nominations.
At the Department of Education, Walker accepted the resignation of Mike Hanley, the commissioner, but then named Hanley as acting commissioner. The state education board appoints a commissioner of education, but where there is a resignation the governor makes an interim appointment.
While making the new appointments Walker also asked for the resignations of senior previous state officials including Balash who were supervising the state’s ongoing negotiations on the gas and LNG project.
Those include Mike Pawlowski, a deputy revenue commissioner who was deeply engaged in the gas pipeline negotiations.
Pawlowski left his position at noon on Monday.
Myers, the incoming resources commissioner, and Rutherford, the new deputy, were part of a group of state resources department officials who protested, and resigned, in 2006 when former Gov. Frank Murkowski attempted to negotiate a partnership with industry on an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
In many respects Murkowski’s proposal, which failed, is similar to a state-industry partnership on a large gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas project agreed on by Parnell, the former governor, earlier this year.
After resigning his DNR position Myers was named as head of the U.S. Geological Survey but later returned to Alaska and became the coordinator in the DNR on the AGIA gas pipeline project.
Walker also appointed Marcia Davis, a former Deputy Revenue Commissioner under Palin, as acting revenue commissioner until Walker’s appointed commissioner, Randy Hoffbeck, arrives back in Alaska from an extended overseas trip. We also hear Davis will move up to be deputy chief of staff in the governor’s office under Jim Whitaker, now chief of staff and a former borough mayor of Fairbanks, in Interior Alaska, who frequently jousted with North Slope producers over tax and gas pipeline issues.
In other interim appointments, Walker made Grey Mitchell acting commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Mitchell was previously director of the department’s division of labor standards and safety.
Fred Parady was named acting commissioner of the Department of Commerce. Parady is now a deputy commissioner.
Previously he held a senior administrative position at the North Slope Borough, working for Mayor Charlotte Brower.