Legislature confirms most, but not all, of Walker's nominees
The state Legislature approved all of Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet appointees in a joint-session Sunday afternoon while rejecting a few board appointments. Most commissioners drew no objections, with unanimous vote margins of 59 in favor and with one lawmaker, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, absent due to family reasons.
In the most controversial board appointments Walker has made, the Legislature confirmed former Senate President Rick Halford as a member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board but rejected the nomination of another former senator, Joe Paskvan. Halford was approved by a 35-24 vote and Paskan was defeated by a vote of 28-31.
The Legislature also voted 29-30 against confirming Board of Fisheries appointee Robert Ruffner. In 2013, Board of Fisheries nominee Vince Webster was also voted down by a 29-30 vote.
Allocations among different user groups were at the forefront of Ruffner's nomination. Criticisms during the confirmation session came largely from Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and other legislators who have recently attacked Ruffner's suitability for supposed allegiance to the commercial fishing industry and lack of representativeness of the Anchorage personal use and dipnetting user base.
The seat Ruffner was nominated for previously belonged to Karl Johnstone, who resigned after Walker announced he would not be nominated for a new term later this year. Johnstone represented sport fishing interests.
Walker had nominated Ruffner to the position following the withdrawal of Roland Maw for consideration. Maw, who is currently being charged with criminal license violations in Montana, faced similar scrutiny over commercial interests.
Other “no” votes for cabinet officials came with the confirmation of state Attorney General Craig Richards which had been expected but who was confirmed in the end by a vote of 36-23. There were also “no” votes for Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck, however, which came as a surprise, although he was also confirmed by a vote of 47-12.
Opposition to Richards’ appointment arose mainly over his close relationship with Gov. Bill Walker as a former law partner, although there was no discussion before the joint-session vote.
In Hoffbeck’s case, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, rose to speak against Hoffbeck, and cited a recent decision over $2 billion in state investments after only consulting with Department of Revenue investment staff, and not outside financial advisors.
“This may have been an appropriate decision but I am concerned that he didn’t reach out and lost the opportunity,” for advice from outside state government, MacKinnon said.
Among board appointments, Michael Gallagher was turned down in his bid to be appointed as a commissioner to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, spoke against Gallagher’s confirmation, arguing that his experience in labor law and contracting, even though in the oil and gas industry, did not fit well with the highly-technical regulatory decisions needed at the oil and gas conservation commission.
The final vote for Gallagher was 26-33.