|Kyle Johansen at left, Charisse Millett at right|
The Ketchikan Daily News is calling for the resignation of Rep. Johansen in the wake of a recent organizational fiasco in which he threw away the chance to become the House Majority Leader because he decided to fall on his sword for Rep. Millett. KTUU Channel 2 has also picked up the story. It all started on November 5th, when Johansen had been elected to become the new House Majority Leader. All of a sudden, Millett wanted to become chair of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee. When her colleagues demurred, Millett quit the majority caucus.
Enter Johansen, stage right. Johansen proposed a deal in which he would give up the Majority Leader position if the Majority Caucus would place Millett on the House Finance Committee. Once again, their colleagues said no. So Johansen also bails out on the Caucus -- and coughs up his majority leader position (replaced by Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak). This means House District 1 is getting screwed out of the influence they would have had -- influence which would have compensated them for the edge that urban Alaska normally has over rural Alaska. Alaska Dispatch published the full press release from the Majority Caucus discussing this situation. To add insult to injury, Millett has since stated she knew nothing of the proposed deal and wouldn't have accepted it, so Johansen's posturing was all for nothing.
As a result, Ketchikan is pissed, and the area's leading newspaper wants Johansen to take a powder. Can you blame them? Even Johansen's recent Democratic opponent, Ottar Mobley, chimed in, saying, “I am profoundly disappointed in Johansen’s choice to not only give up his position as House Majority Leader, but to also leave the majority all together. Considering that his recent campaign platform focused on his power as majority leader, and his relationships in the legislature, it is especially disheartening to learn that he has given those up for what appear to be personal issues.”
Rep. Johansen claims he thought the Majority Caucus had been driven too much to the left by some of its Democratic members who opposed mining. He further states he asked that, instead of Majority Leader, he be given chair of the House Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Committee. For her part, Rep. Millett told Dan Fagan last week that she decided it was apparent that the House was being organized in a way that would support bringing legislation to reauthorize the state Coastal Zone Management Program to a vote on the House floor. Millett is apparently concerned that reauthorizing this program would give local communities the power to veto resource development, which could kill any prospect of offshore drilling in the near future. Millett believes her district, House District 30, will be better represented by her walkout because she won't have to push along caucus priorities. It appears District 30 residents are not concerned about her decision.
Whether District 30 will indeed benefit remains to be seen. But it appears Rep. Millett may still have her head in the right place. There's virtually no evidence she's allowing her personal relationship with Rep. Johansen to cloud her professional judgment; concern over coastal management is a legitimate call. But the same cannot be said of Kyle Johansen. In a spasm of misguided chivalry, he threw away a leadership position and fell on his sword for a female colleague who later said she would not have accepted the results had it been successful. He clearly allowed his personal feelings to cloud his judgment -- and damage the interests of his district. Whether or not he needs to resign is between him and his district. But at the very least, he owes his constituents an explanation -- and an apology -- for compromising his stewardship.