Lawmakers get second chance to confirm Ruffner

  • Thursday, February 4, 2016 4:32pm
  • Opinion

Here we go again.

Gov. Bill Walker this week nominated Robert Ruffner to a seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, giving the Soldotna resident and former executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum a second opportunity to sit on the board that sets state fishing regulations.

More significantly, Walker’s nomination of Ruffner gives Alaska’s legislators a second opportunity at a confirmation process that fell far short of expectations last year.

Ruffner’s confirmation last year became politicized — to say the least — with opponents to his nomination floating arguments that, under even the lightest of scrutiny by lawmakers, should’ve been dismissed as bunk. It was argued, for example, that because commercial fishing advocacy groups supported his nomination, Ruffner would favor commercial fishing — nevermind that he describes himself as an active personal-use fishery participant. And it was suggested that the seat for which Ruffner was nominated was supposed to go to a sport fishing advocate, and that geographical representation should play a role — nevermind that Alaska state law says nothing of the sort.

And with that, Ruffner’s confirmation failed on a 30-29 vote.

This session, we hope things are different. Gov. Walker’s slate of nominees — Alan Cain of Anchorage and Israel Payton of Wasilla also were nominated to the board — suggests a vision for a board that seeks balance through consensus-building, rather than a body of members balanced only by their opposing points of view. Perhaps Ruffner’s greatest accomplishment during his time with the Watershed Forum was his ability to get groups who seemingly have nothing in common — oil companies and conservation organizations, for example — to find common ground and work together on projects.

The board process, without a doubt, can use more of that type of thinking.

Perhaps the Legislature could take a cue as well.

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