Thursday, April 16, 2009

Alaska State Legislature Rejects Sarah Palin's Attorney General Designate Wayne Anthony Ross, 23-35; Obstructionism A Suspected Motivation

The Alaska State Legislature took its feud with Governor Sarah Palin to a new low on April 16th, 2009, rejecting the nomination of Attorney General Designate Wayne Anthony Ross by a 35-23 margin. This action occurs hard on the heels of the Alaska Senate Democrats' rejection of yet another Palin Democratic nominee for the vacant Senate District B seat, and lends increasing suspicion that the Legislature is willing to risk sabotaging the business of state merely to get back at Governor Palin. Watch KTUU Channel 2 news video below:

Here's the scorecard. Note that while Democrats, except for Richard Foster who was excused, voted "No" straight down party lines, some Republicans joined the Democrats in the "No" vote:

-- Yes (7)
---- Republicans (7): Bunde, Dyson, Huggins, McGuire, Menard, Meyer, Therriault.
---- Democrats (0)
-- No (12)
---- Republicans (3): Stedman, Waggoner, Stevens.
---- Democrats (9): Davis, Ellis, French, Hoffman, Kookesh, Olson, Paskvan, Thomas, Wielechowski.

-- Yes (16)
---- Republicans (16): Coghill, Dahlstrom, Fairclough, Gatto, Harris, Hawker, Johnson, Keller, Kelly, Lynn, Millett, Muñoz, Neuman, Olson, Ramras, Stoltz
---- Democrats (0)
-- No (23)
---- Republicans (6): Austerman, Chenault, Johansen, Seaton, Thomas, Wilson.
---- Democrats (17): Buch, Cissna, Crawford, Doogan, Edgmon, Gara, Gardner, Gruenberg, Guttenberg, Herron, Holmes, Joule, Kawasaki, Kerttula, Petersen, Salmon, Tuck.

-- Excused: Foster (D)

House Speaker Mike Chenault's No vote is a surprise, since, like Ross, Chenault is a law-and-order type who's sponsored a bill to restore the death penalty in Alaska. But he wasted little time in explaining himself: "I think he is too controversial for the state of Alaska. We've got in some people's mind a controversial governor and I think that he just has too many controversies out there".

There were some legitimate concerns. First, radical feminist author Leah Burton accused Ross of making some "offensive" comments at a meeting at Denny's 17 years ago, but Ross answered those allegations immediately and forthrightly, denying the remarks. Second, lawmakers expressed some concern over some allegedly "anti-gay" remarks he made as a private citizen in a letter to the bar association 16 years ago, in which he classified homosexuals as "degenerate", but Ross assured lawmakers that he would enforce the laws equitably without regard to all the standard "diversity variables". So these immediately became non-issues, as far as I'm concerned.

However, some lawmakers also expressed concern about low ratings on Wayne Anthony Ross assessed by the Alaska Judicial Council. In 2007 and 2008, Ross applied to fill vacancies for two appellate judgeship positions, and both times was not selected by the Alaska Judicial Council, earning low ratings of 2.8 in 2007 and 2.9 in 2008, respectively (5.0 is the max rating). But the Judicial Ratings were for an independent judgeship, which requires interpreting the law, and may not be fully applicable to an Attorney General position, which requires enforcing the law. The Attorney General is not an independent position, but is the Governor's chief law enforcement officer. So the ratings are noteworthy, but only of marginal concern.

But the Anchorage Daily News also pointed out that there was broad-based opposition to Ross from Alaska Native groups because he is opposed to a rural subsistence priority. Nevertheless, the "No" vote was not a foregone conclusion; even Ross' opponents in the Legislature had said only a few days ago that he had enough support to be confirmed. But ADN believes a tipping point appeared to come this week when he gave what lawmakers called bad and politicized legal advice to Palin about the fight to fill the Senate District B vacancy. Of course, ADN also greased the skids for Ross' rejection with their own negative editorial earlier this week, as did the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Governor Palin subsequently issued a short statement expressing her disappointment and suggesting that lawmakers allowed themselves to be distracted by side issues. I agree with this analysis - and one of the leading side issues is the Democrats' food fight over Senate District B. It's despicable that lawmakers would leave the Attorney General's position unfilled and hold the voters of District B hostage to their petty food fight with Governor Palin. Of course, Governor Palin's next appointee will be allowed to serve as an interim Attorney General if no confirmation occurs before the legislature adjourns in a week. But the legislature clearly has NOT earned the pay raise they received this year.

Prominent blogger reaction: Andrew Halcro and Celtic Diva approve the rejection, while Rebecca Logan expresses disappointment at the rejection on The Alaska Standard.

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