Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Calls For Gene Therriault's Resignation Continue To Escalate; Now The Anchorage Daily News Has Joined The Chorus

The public outcry for Gene Therriault's resignation from his position as Alaska Governor Sean Parnell's energy advisor continues to build, and joining the public chorus is the state's flagship newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. Read my previous post for the nuts and bolts on this case.

In an editorial entitled "Our view: Therriault should go", published on July 28th, 2010, ADN opines that Therriault should follow Nancy Dahlstrom's example and resign his position because Gov. Parnell clearly violated the spirit, and perahps the letter of the provision in the Alaska Constitution that prohibits the appointment of sitting legislators to other state jobs. In both cases, Gov. Parnell circumvented that provision with semantic technicalities; namely, hiring legislators for jobs that don't officially "exist" until after the lawmakers resign. This is nonsense at best, and outright contempt for the constitution at worst.

Earlier on July 27th, the more right-wing Anchorage Daily Planet also called for Therriault's resignation. In their column entitled "Time To Resign", the Planet states, "The argument now rages over who signed what and when, and what it all means, but it all ignores the glaring point. The governor of the state of Alaska ignored the spirit of the Alaska Constitution to get around the law. He now is trying to find something, anything, to justify his action. Running a state on technicalities is not the best course. It is not even an acceptable course. Alaskans deserve better from their government than politicians wrapping themselves in shades of gray to do whatever they want".

And Dan Fagan launched another attack in The Alaska Standard. In a post entitled "Gene Therriault claims he didn't sign what he clearly signed", Fagan points out that Therriault clearly signed the personnel document on September 12th, 2009, although Therriault is now claiming that he didn't turn the document in until he returned to Juneau on September 17th. Fagan questions whether Therriault will voluntarily resign, because his job could end up delivering as much as a million bucks in added pension benefits if he can hang on just a few more months. Fagan gives a more detailed explanation HERE. Fagan concludes that the only way this injustice can be corrected is if Attorney General Daniel Sullivan steps forward like he did with the Dahlstrom hiring and render a legal opinion.

Rep. Harry Crawford (D-Anchorage), who is also running for Don Young's Congressional seat, has also called upon Therriault to resign, saying he sees no difference between his case and Nancy Dahlstrom's case. But Senator Con Bunde (R-Anchorage) disagrees, saying the spirit of the law is preserved. Bunde said the law was passed to keep legislators from funding some special job for themselves, then resigning and taking that job, and further explained that there's no indication that Therriault lobbied for the energy post.

Some are asking why these concerns weren't raised when the Obama Administration recruited then-Senator Kim Elton to come to work at the Interior Department. After all, Ken Salazar first approached Elton in January 2009, long before Elton formally accepted and resigned from the State Senate on March 2nd. This is a fair question; I suppose the reason I didn't jump on it was because it did not occur to me to pursue it; we were preoccupied with higher-priority issues, such as the Ted Stevens aftermath, the ongoing troubles of Sarah Palin, and an Anchorage mayoral election. No one else was squawking about it, either. It would seem in retrospect that the guidance in AS 24.05.040 would have applied in Elton's case as well:

“During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member".

It states "any other office", not "any other state office".

Nevertheless, just because Gov. Parnell was operating on precedent doesn't mean the precedent is necessarily right. I believe Gov. Parnell acted in good faith and intended no malfeasance or impropriety. But with the number of influential voices calling for Gene Therriault's resignation, Gov. Parnell needs to think long and hard about this one -- particularly during an election year. The law may be a bit ambiguous and unnecesaarily restrictive, but we obey the laws we have, not the laws we want, until the laws we have are changed. Update July 28th: A newly-released Hellenthal poll shows Sean Parnell leading his competitors by 45 percentage points, so this may turn out to be much ado by nothing.

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