Saturday, March 03, 2007

Embattled Alaska Game Board Chairman Ron Somerville Compromises: Gives Up Chairmanship, Remains On Board

Friday's Alaska Board of Game meeting began with a surprise announcement by Ron Somerville that he would give up his chairmanship. Story aired on KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage.

"I was approached by some of the board members about continuing as possible chair of the board again and I declined that and I want to say why," Somerville said. His decision to hand over the gavel stems from comments he made at an October 2006 meeting that were interpreted by many as anti-Native. When some Natives from the Glennallen region failed to appear for testimony, Somerville said, "There must be a run on free beer or something". When the next person, a Native lady named Donna Hicks, stepped up to testify, Somerville quipped "Don't like beer, Donna?" Click HERE for a complete account of this incident.

After initial criticism, most of it directed from the Native community, Somerville subsequently issued a statement of regret. "I was accused of showing some disrespect to the Native community by a statement that I inadvertently made," he said. "I guess if I could go back and take it back because of the problems, I would do that. I did not do it in any form of disrespect toward the Native community."

Nevertheless, his statement and his gesture today did not go far enough for some. Some people showed up at Friday's meeting wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the comment, "Don't like beer, Donna?". Somerville's statement lacked an apology and those wearing the T-shirts pointed it out.

"I thought it was a half-hearted attempt to pacify the Native community. I don't think it was an actual apology," said Chistochina resident Liana Engebretson. "I have yet to hear an actual apology for the comments he made at the last meeting and I really believe he should have stepped down completely from the committee, from the board."

Governor Sarah Palin twice asked Somerville to resign from the board. Instead, he resigned his chairmanship. Palin has since determined she does not have the authority to remove Somerville and says she's satisfied with the outcome. She believes a new chairman should clear the cloud the board has been working under since October.

Board vice-chairman Cliff Judkins was elected as the new chair.

Commentary: Somerville's compromise was a good move and well-timed. By resigning his chairmanship, he at least attempts to address the concerns of those who were offended. It was indeed an attempt to pacify the Native community. But by remaining on the Game Board, he shows that he will not cave in altogether to this type of political pressure. And by delaying the move until now, he showed that he would retain final control over the process and not hand control over to a bunch of emotionalized victims. Thus he did not respond to psychological blackmail.

What's particularly aggravating is that the so-called "victims" claim that Somerville's statement was not a "real" apology. Since when does a "victim" dictate an apology? If an apology is dictated, then it cannot be a real apology. It becomes nothing more than a rote exercise. That's why I only apologize when I've actually done something wrong; I never apologize merely for offending someone or hurting their feelings. Too bad more of our elected leaders don't follow suit.

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