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Alaska Legislature confirms most Dunleavy appointees, rejects pick for Board of Fisheries

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, speaks in support of Abe Williams who was rejected from sitting...
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, speaks in support of Abe Williams who was rejected from sitting on the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The Alaska Legislature held its annual joint confirmation hearing for dozens of the governor's appointees to boards and commissions.((AP Photo/Sean Maguire, Pool))
Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 8:25 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - In a joint session, the Alaska Legislature unanimously confirmed the vast majority of the governor’s choices for state boards and commissions, but rejected one of his appointees to the influential Board of Fisheries along with two appointees to other boards.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s choice of Treg Taylor for attorney general was scrutinized for Taylor’s decision to provide a waiver for Ben Stevens, the governor’s former chief of staff, to start working at ConocoPhillips right after Stevens resigned from the governor’s office.

Questions were also asked about Taylor’s lack of criminal law experience.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, spoke in support of Taylor’s “life experience” before Taylor was confirmed on a 35 to 24 vote.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney was confirmed by a wide margin, as was Samantha Cherot to head the Public Defender’s Agency. Commissioner James Cockrell of the Department of Public Safety was confirmed unanimously.

John Cox, an appointee to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, was the first of the governor’s choices to be rejected by the Legislature.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Zack Fields said Cox had “very little industry experience.” McCabe stood in support of him, but Cox fell one vote short of the 31 votes needed for confirmation.

When attention turned to boards in charge of fisheries, debate became more heated with legislators falling along familiar battle lines in support of commercial fishing and sportfishing.

Two appointees to the Board of Fisheries got particular attention.

Abe Williams, a Pebble Partnership employee, was voted down on a 18 to 41 vote to sit on the board that allocates fisheries resources to commercial, sport and substance fishing. In 2020, Williams attracted opposition from Bristol Bay commercial fishing groups.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, spoke against Williams’ appointment, saying that was unusual as he is a constituent from Naknek. Edgmon said the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery needs to be well-managed for future generations.

Märit Carlson-Van Dort attracted heated debate, too.

The United Fishermen of Alaska opposed her reappointment to a position that’s seen by some as a “comm fishing” seat. Some sportfishing groups came out in support of her. Her appointment was confirmed with a 36 to 23 vote.

Legislators also debated appointments to boards related to the judiciary.

Dunleavy appointed Kristie Babcock to the Alaska Judicial Council, the board in charge of selecting state judges.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, stood against that choice, saying Babcock would be the third of the governor’s appointees to the judicial council from Southcentral Alaska.

The Alaska Constitution states that there must be “area representation” on the council, but there was debate whether that meant members have to be from different judicial districts or from different parts of the state.

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, said Babcock is the first woman on the council from the Kenai Peninsula and that the peninsula is clearly different than the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Anchorage or the Aleutians which are all part of the same judicial district.

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster noted that Western Alaska has no representation again on the council. Babcock was confirmed with two votes to spare.

Annette Gwalthney-Jones became an unexpected topic of debate.

She was appointed to serve on the Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees, but was narrowly rejected by legislators after controversial Facebook posts surfaced during discussions on the floor.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, read from a post that now appears to have been deleted that compared the treatment of Trump administration officials on university campuses to the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

Some legislators stood to say Gwalthney-Jones should not be judged on a few controversial posts on social media. She was rejected on a 29 to 30 vote.

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