JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Three of the governor's controversial picks to run state agencies have been confirmed by a joint session of the Alaska Legislature.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune had come under scrutiny for his previous work as a public face of the Pebble Partnership, with some lawmakers voicing concerns that he may struggle to regulate the mining industry objectively.
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, suggested he may take the position of industry over the need to ensure clean air and water for Alaskans.
Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, spoke in support of Brune and said he had known Brune for many years as a “man of integrity.”
Concerns were raised about the administration’s decision to call for the axing of the Ocean Ranger program.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, questioned if Brune was up to the task of cleaning up sites contaminated by per and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, a chemical found in fire fighting foams.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported on April 9 that Brune had delayed imposing stricter PFAS regulations proposed by former Gov. Bill Walker.
After heated debate, Brune was confirmed with a vote of 35-24.
Almost immediately, the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and the Alaska Center released statements opposing the confirmation, concerned about the ongoing process to get the proposed Pebble Mine approved.
After Brune, lawmakers turned to Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, questioned how Crum could run a $3.5 billion department with 3,800 employees without any prior experience in public health policy.
Crum previously worked as an executive vice president of trucking company Northern Industrial Training. Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, argued that position was significant and that managerial experience is transferable.
Crum was ultimately confirmed in a 34-25 vote.
After Crum came Amanda Price, Dunleavy’s pick to head the Department of Public Safety.
In an unusual step, Price fronted the media Tuesdayalongside four of her DPS subordinates and a member of the Public Safety Employees of Alaska — the union that represents public safety workers.
Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, raised questions about how she could work as Alaska’s top cop when profound questions existed over her integrity, citing her lack of candor in front of multiple legislative committees about her employment, education, and financial history.
Accusations have floated across the Capitol and in confirmation hearings about her education and the manner in which she left a job in the Walker administration.
Reps. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, joined Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, in pushing back against criticism of Price, suggesting some of it may have come down to her gender.
“Too outspoken? Too pushy? No, that would be what you’re supposed to do if you’re a public safety commissioner, but this a female and sometimes we’re not supposed to be those things,” Wilson said.
Many across the Capitol had suggested the vote for Price could be very close. Senators voted first, with ten members voting for confirmation and ten against, setting the stage for a potentially nail-biting vote by House members.
It was not to be however, with 24 House members voting for Price's confirmation and 15 against, maintaining the combined vote tally of 34-25 as the other cabinet appointees.
All of the governor’s other picks to run state agencies were confirmed almost unanimously with the exception of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who received 40 votes in favor and 19 against.
By Sean Maguire
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