The Legislature blazed through its annual joint session to confirm or reject appointments made by Gov. Bill Walker, finishing the session in a little over an hour. Out of 99 appointments, the Legislature confirmed all but one of the appointees.
That appointee is Palmer resident Kenni Linden, who Walker appointed to the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives as its public member. In recent weeks, she’s faced steep opposition from social conservatives and was the target of what one legislative insider described as a “robo-email campaign.”
That’s because Linden once worked for Planned Parenthood’s political wing as a field organizer, but you wouldn’t know it by the skimpy debate that preceded the vote.
The only person to speak in opposition to Linden’s appointment was North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, who had this to say:
“I just looked at the background and listened to the hearing, and I just don’t think it’s a good fit for the board,” she said, without adding any elaboration.
Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, spoke in favor of Linden’s appointment, noting that Linden was recommended by the midwife who helped her with a home birth.
“She supports safe, compassionate care,” Gardner said.
Linden’s appointment was rejected on a 32N-28Y vote.
Though conservative opposition to Planned Parenthood didn’t surface during the confirmation vote, it did arise during committee hearings. During one hearing, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard pointed out Linden’s connection with Planned Parenthood and suggested her “organizing tactics” in support of an organization that provides abortion services were incompatible with the job of a midwife.
Linden had this to say:
“I left in July of 2016 to have a baby. This is part of the reason I have interest in this board,” she said. “My own midwife recommended me for this position. … My Planned Parenthood work is very much representative of my interest in women’s health. I have no intention or agenda in coming to the midwifery board with any political issues. I come simply as a client.”
Linden ran for the Palmer City Council last fall with term limits as one of her key priorities, but came up short in a multi-way race. Her work with Planned Parenthood also featured strongly in a whisper campaign against Linden.
Votes in favor: Sens. Begich, Egan, Gardner, Hoffman, Stedman, Stevens and Wielechowski. Reps. Claman, Drummond, Edgmon, Foster, Gara, Guttenberg, Johnston, Josephson, Kawasaki, Kito, Kreiss-Tomkins, Lincoln, Ortiz, Parish, Seaton, Spohnholz, Stutes, Tarr, Tuck, Wool and Zulkosky
Votes against: Sens. Bishop, Coghill, Costello, Giessel, Hughes, MacKinnon, Meyer, Micciche, Olson, Shower, von Imhof, Wilson and Kelly. Reps. Birch, Chenault, Eastman, Grenn, Johnson, Knopp, Kopp, LeDoux, Millett, Neuman, Pruitt, Rauscher, Reinbold, Saddler, Sullivan-Leonard, Talerico, Thompson, Tilton and Wilson.
All legislators were present for the day’s confirmation hearings. Any legislator not listed in the votes against below voted in favor of the appointment.
Board of Game appointments
Walker ultimately shied away from controversial appointees to the Board of Fisheries, but did run into objections to both of his appointments to the Board of Game. Teresa Sager-Albaugh, of Tok, faced opposition by legislators who said she’s a frequent opponent to anything related to Alaska Native subsistence rights. There was no voiced objection to Lawrence Van Daele, of Kodiak, but Kodiak-area legislators spoke glowingly of his appointment.
- Sager-Albaugh was confirmed on a 44-16 vote. Votes against: Sens. Wielechowski, Gardner, Hoffman and Olson. Reps. Drummond, Gara, Guttenberg, Josephson, Kito, Kreiss-Tomkins, Lincoln, Spohnholz, Tarr and Zulkosky.
- Van Daele was confirmed on a 50-10 vote. Votes against: Sens. Wilson, Hughes and Shower. Reps. Eastman, Johnson, Neuman, Rauscher, Talerico, Tilton and Wilson.
Props to public defenders
The Legislature was also asked to confirm Public Defender Quinlan Steiner for his fourth term as the head of the state’s Public Defender Agency (he was first appointed in 2005). He was confirmed on a 58-2 vote with Rep. Lora Reinbold waging the main opposition to Steiner, who she accused of having a hand in the spike in crime rates.
Steiner, who obviously ended up having broad support of the Legislature, got perhaps the most ringing endorsement from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. She argued that public defenders have it tough with the cuts and respected the job Steiner has done.
“You couldn’t pay me enough to do this job,” she said, going on to explain her support for him. “I truly believe he’s doing the best job he can with the tools we’ve given him.”
Votes against: Reps. Reinbold and Eastman
Davidson confirmed as Lt. Gov. successor
Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson was confirmed as the successor to the lieutenant governor in case he can no longer fulfill his job. The confirmation vote was on a 47-13 vote, and the objection to her appointment was brought by Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.
“My concern is not so much that a lieutenant governor’s successor might be appropriate in this situation, it’s much more so that if you succeed the lieutenant governor you’re next in line for the governor,” he said. “Many of my constituents believe do not feel this individual should be put in that place of responsibility.”
Votes against: Sens. Hughes, Shower, WIlson and von Imhof. Reps. Eastman, Johnson, Neuman, Rauscher, Reinbold, Sullivan-Leonard, Thompson, Tilton and Wilson.
All three of Walker’s appointments to commissioners were approved by the Legislature on Tuesday. Those include Department of Administration Commissioner Leslie Ridle, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Mike Navarre and Department of Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher. Here’s how each vote broke down:
- Ridle for Administration 59-1. Votes against: Rep. Kito.
- Navarre for Commerce 49-11. Navarre took some flak for his recent hearing on linking revenues to economic development. Votes against: Sens. Hughes, Shower and Wilson. Reps. Eastman, Neuman, Rauscher, Reinbold, Sullivan-Leonard, Talerico, Tilton and Wilson.
- Fisher for Revenue 50-10. Fisher saw opposition in the form of a lengthy rebuttal by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who said Fisher has pursued policies that favor the wealthy. Votes against: Sens. Wielechowski and Gardner. Reps. Eastman, Gara, Guttenberg, Kito, Parish, Rauscher, Tarr and Tuck.
Board of Barbers and Hairdressers
Vershawn Idom, Anchorage, confirmed 58-2. No debate. Votes against: Sen. Gardner. Rep. Eastman.
State Commision for Human Rights
Freddie Olin IV, Anchorage (an earlier version of this story had the wrong city), confirmed 58-2. No debate. Votes against: Reps. Eastman and Johnson.
University of Alaska Board of Regents
Stephen (Joey) Sweet, Anchorage, confirmed 59-1. No Debate. Votes against: Rep. Eastman.
Taylor Winston confirmed on 58-2. Votes against: Reps. Eastman and Reinbold.