The marijuana industry can finally exhale after the Legislature came up a single vote short of confirming anti-marijuana advocate Vivian Stiver’s appointment to the Marijuana Control Board.
With 31 votes required to confirm a governor’s appointees to boards and commissions, Stiver fell short with a 30-29 vote as the Legislature rejected a half dozen of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s appointees during Wednesday’s marathon joint confirmation hearing.
The votes came after the Legislature voted to confirm the governor’s entire cabinet despite hard-fought battles to reject some of those appointees.
Vivian Stiver – Marijuana Control Board
Of the appointments to boards and commissions, Stiver’s appointment drew the most public backlash. She had backed a pair of voter initiatives that would have outlawed the already-operating marijuana industry from the city of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2017. Both initiatives failed by a wide margin.
Dunleavy’s decision to appoint her to the board, replacing well-respected industry member Brandon Emmett on a seat that could be given either to an industry member or a public member, raised alarm bells in the industry. Stiver was labelled by many as a prohibitionist and her efforts to reach out to the industry in recent months was met with skepticism.
“In a rhetorical question would this body vote for an alcohol prohibitionist for the Alcohol Control Board?” said Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks. “Not somebody who doesn’t drink, but somebody who thinks alcohol should be illegal. Would this body appoint somebody who believes brushing teeth is a bad idea to the board dental examiners?”
Hopkins noted that the Legislature had just last year rejected an appointee to the Board of Direct Entry Midwives because legislators took issue with her previous work for Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, came to Stiver’s defense. Stiver previously worked as a legislative aide for Wilson and the two have worked on other voter initiatives together.
Wilson noted that the law says the seat can go to either an industry member or a public member. If the Legislature doesn’t want it going to a public member, then it should change the law.
“This is one person. What is everybody scared of that one person’s going to be able to do? Vote five times?” she said. “To just say this is not the right person because they don’t belong to the industry is not what the initiative called for. I want to know why you don’t want to have the voice of a normal person on there. Don’t you want more people to learn exactly what the good things the industry is trying to do?”
Karl Johnstone – Board of Fish
Board of Fish appointee Karl Johnstone faced a mountain of controversy heading into the confirmation vote, but the session was blindsided by new claims that Johnstone had allegedly sexually harassed two women who worked with the Board of Fish. The claims were brought forward by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, who said the women approached her anonymously, but that their testimony aligned with other public claims that Johnstone was a brash bully.
Many Republicans who were supportive of Johnstone—who drew stiff opposition from commercial fishermen and support from the sport groups—decried the last-minute attacks. The Legislature voted to table his confirmation vote and reopen the committee hearings to vet the claims and allow him an opportunity to respond.
It cut off much of the debate over what would have already been a difficult confirmation, but someone must have counted the votes because at the end of the night the Legislature voted to take up his confirmation only to vote it down without further debate or explanation.
John Francis – Violent Crimes Compensation Board
John Francis’ past came back to haunt him on Wednesday night, and we’re not just talking about his ghost-hunting activities that put off so many legislators. Instead, it was what many legislators felt were his inconsistent statements and explanations of his previous felony and misdemeanor convictions that doomed his candidacy.
“I believe in redemption, I believe in rehabilitation, but honest today is critical,” said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. “The Violent Crimes Compensation Board doesn’t just dole out awards, they look at cases and, as the nominee himself said to one of the judiciary committees, they have to judge the honesty and reliability of the accounts they’re brought. … Honesty is critical. I think I haven’t seen it in this nominee in this confirmation process.”
The ghost-hunting still made an appearance during the floor debate. Sen. Lora Reinbold, the Eagle River Republican who made headlines with her questioning of Francis’ paranormal activities, said after that hearing she was bombarded with hateful messages, including a death threat.
Not everyone felt that the paranormal investigations should be disqualifying. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said he had had his own paranormal experience… which turned out to be a robot toy keeping his daughters up.
Francis’ appointment was defeated 48-9, but it wasn’t the widest margin of the night.
Michael Tavoliero – Real Estate Commission
The House Labor and Commerce Committee’s hearing with Michael Tavoliero was, in the words of Rep. Adam Wool, “highly unusual and combative.” Wool, and others, said it was “like pulling teeth” to get any information out of Tavoliero, including just what he did during a 30-year gap in his resume.
Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, also highlighted Tavoliero’s social media that contains a number of Islamophobic tweets and others that appear to incite calls to violence against Muslims, an issue that Rep. Sarah Vance objected to being raised as she felt it didn’t relate to the board.
But it was Tavoliero’s apparent lack of understanding of the board that ultimately sunk him. Legislators on both sides of the aisle noted that they were disturbed that Tavoliero didn’t seem to understand the duties of the Real Estate Commission and appeared to think that he was applying for the Board of Realtors.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, said not understanding the difference was alarming and that there were many more people more qualified to sit on the board than Tavoliero.
The Legislature also defeated two additional nominees, but those decisions were not based on any of the qualifications—or lack thereof—of the candidates.
The Legislature rejected Board of Nursing appointee Marisha Dieters because she was appointed as one type of nurse but would soon be transitioning to a different type. Wool said he had spoken with Dieters, who said she understood the potential problem and agreed with the move.
The Legislature also rejected the appointment of James McDermott to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. McDermott is a libertarian and was appointed to the commission after the 2014 election when the Alaska Democratic Party didn’t qualify for its two seats on the commission because it didn’t have a candidate in the gubernatorial race.
Many legislators—both Democrats and Republicans—objected to his reappointment to the board, arguing that the seat should now go to a Democrat after the 2018 election. A majority of legislators agreed.
The Legislature voted to table a confirmation vote on Dr. Scott Flamme to the Board of Veterinary Examiners after Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, noted that he had multiple domestic violence restraining orders filed against him.