JUNEAU — Alaska Republican legislators on Thursday defied Gov. Bill Walker’s call to take confirmation votes on his appointments to boards, commissions and key administration posts, including attorney general.
The move represented the latest clash in a drawn-out legislative session in which lawmakers are grappling with how best to address a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit. There is no apparent conclusion in sight. Walker on Wednesday issued a proclamation calling for a joint session of the House and Senate Thursday to vote on his nominees. The proclamation came after the Senate twice rejected calls by the House to meet. Shortly after the joint session convened, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche moved to adjourn. The motion was approved, supported by majority Senate Republicans and minority House Republicans.
Walker, a Republican turned independent, said he was disappointed that the Senate majority had again refused to participate in the confirmation process.
Senate President Pete Kelly said he intends to hold an eventual vote, a point he reiterated in a letter to Walker. The Fairbanks Republican also maintained that Thursday’s move had nothing to do with any of the nominees.
But he said the Senate, House and Walker each should have something at stake during negotiations to try to resolve outstanding issues in the session.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said by delaying confirmations, lawmakers add one more thing to a heap of issues that still must be resolved, including a state budget and a plan to address a deficit that’s been deepened by low oil prices.
“Our pathway forward has gotten that much more complicated,” the Dillingham Democrat told reporters.
Lawmakers have already run past the 90-day regular session limit imposed by voters. They are currently working under a constitutional, 121-day session limit, which extends to mid-May.
Edgmon said his caucus, composed largely of Democrats, wanted to get the confirmations out of the way to focus on the other issues. Kelly said the focus first should be on addressing the fiscal situation.
Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner called the abrupt adjournment of Thursday’s joint session embarrassing for the Senate.
“We are here to do the work of the people, not to play these ridiculous political games,” the Anchorage Democrat said in a release.
Three of the appointees are to key administration posts: Jahna Lindemuth as attorney general; Walt Monegan as public safety commissioner; and Andy Mack as natural resources commissioner.
They, like other nominees, have been serving in their positions but are subject to legislative approval.
Lindemuth’s decision to pursue settlement in a long-running land-access dispute has bothered some lawmakers.
Another nominee who has gotten attention is Drew Phoenix, appointed by Walker to serve on the state’s human rights commission. Some conservative groups have tried to paint Phoenix, a transgender man who has advocated for LGBT rights, as too political for the post.