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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Governor’s Appointments – Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy/Babcock administration

The Governor’s appointments and how they went down



Well, that was a whopper. The governor’s appointees to commissioner positions and to boards and commissions were up for confirmation yesterday, and the joint floor session with members of the House and Senate took 7 hours and 48 minutes to wind up. At the end, all of the governor’s picks for Commissioner positions (even the most controversial) were passed with a majority of votes, but 6 appointees to the many boards and commissions in the state were rejected. And don’t forget about all those appointees/dodged bullets who were vetted by the public and found unacceptable enough that they withdrew their own names, or were withdrawn by the administration. We had the “yogurt entrepreneur” who lied about being a yogurt entrepreneur for the Commissioner of Administration, the misogynistic, racist internet troll for policy adviser, the Q-Anon conspiracy theorist for the University Board of Regents. So we started out ahead.

Here are the highlights and lowlights of the confirmation process. Yes, I watched the whole thing.

*The session was held in the House Chamber which is large enough to accommodate the entire legislature. So, vote boards will show the House, and Senate votes were done by voice since their vote board is in their chamber. And lots of the photos of the vote board feature slices of Speaker Bryce Edgmon’s head because that’s just the way it goes on Gavel Alaska.



First up was Kelly Tshibaka for Commissioner of Administration. She replaced the yogurt guy (see above) and while she is eminently qualified for the position, audio tapes of her talking about how she sings in tongues at the grocery store, and mixes up her religion and work, and some papers she wrote in college about homosexuality being a chosen sin didn’t sit well with those who wondered how this was all going to play out in a work environment. That, plus the hiring of her co-pastor husband by the state for the new Deputy of the Commissioner of Education position, which makes the couple’s net income in the neighborhood of $250k raised eyebrows. And she got weird with Rep. Zack Fields in a committee hearing which pretty much guaranteed she would not get a unanimous confirmation.  At the end of the day nobody doubted that she was actually qualified to do the job.

Kelly Tshibaka confirmed as Commissioner of Administration 48-11.

Senators voting no were: Gray-Jackson, Kawasaki, Wielechowski, and Begich.



The former mouthpiece for The Pebble Mine who said he could be ‘completely impartial’ about permitting that mine had a contentious debate. Rep. Andy Josephson was the first to voice objection saying that the concerns are well-known, and that Brune in his current capacity as designee is siding with industry over clean air and clean water. He also says Brune wouldn’t give a straight answer when asked if he thought climate change was caused by humans. [Handy link about why we know climate change is caused by humans]. And then there was Brune’s advocacy for killing the Ocean Ranger program that has rooted out hundreds of potential violations by cruise ships dumping things they’re not supposed to be dumping in Alaska waters. Grier Hopkins (D-Fairbanks), Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks) referenced the current chicanery happening with the redefinition of “safe” when it comes to toxic lakes in North Pole suffering from PFAS chemical contamination. There are currently “Do Not Eat the Fish” signs, and Brune is on the side of easing limits for contamination. “We only get one Alaska,” Hopkins said. It should also be noted that the VAST majority of public comments on Brune were negative. But Tammie Wilson (R)  who is FROM North Pole, mining guy Chris Birch (R-Anchorage), and Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) feel confident that his entire employment history “won’t cloud his judgment.” Sen. Wielechowski dealt what should have been the death blow for the nomination quoting Brune calling opponents of Pebble Mine “anti-development” and “anti-American, anti-Alaskan carpetbaggers.” Wielechowski pointed out that fishermen are not anti-Alaskan, and Alaska Natives are not carpetbaggers, and that he found Brune’s characterizations “insulting.” And yet…

Brune is confirmed 35-24

Senate no votes: Gray-Jackson, Hoffman, Kawasaki, Olson, Stedman, Stevens, Wielechowski, Begich.


Adam Crum, the failed State Senate candidate who said that he’s “not a healthcare policy guy” is now Alaska’s new healthcare policy guy. This despite the best efforts of Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage) and Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) who serve as co-chairs of the House Health & Social Services Committee and have been the chief critics of the administration and Crum’s efforts to push through the single source no-bid contract to privatize the beleaguered Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Not only was this contract rushed, Spohnholz said, but she also took umbrage to the fact that under Crum’s leadership to date the Alaska Senior Benefits program will be shut off for two months, depriving the neediest seniors of monthly checks amounting to $76 to pay for food, prescriptions, heating costs and other basic necessities. He has thus far failed to find solutions, and the governor is busy playing the blame game with the legislature. Zulkosky stood to speak and basically pointed out that he’s completely unqualified to handle the job. Natasha von Imhof spoke up in what was one of the more bizarre endorsements. She was practically yelling her testimony and looked like she was suppressing rage while saying that he HAS A CALM TEMPERAMENT!” She went on to explain that his new employees could just pick up the slack for all the stuff he doesn’t know. Then Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) brought up the enthusiasm for untested and potentially dangerous Medicaid block grants that Crum seems to like a lot. And yet…

Crum is confirmed 34-25

Senate No votes: Gray-Jackson, Hoffman, Kawasaki, Kiehl, Olson, Wielechowski, Begich

Senate Yes votes: All the Republicans




Kevin Clarkson, former Troopergate attorney who fought to stop the investigation that showed that Palin had abused her power as governor, former parental notification attorney, former only-some-religions-get-to-do-invocations attorney, former trans-people-are-not-welcome-at-this-shelter attorney, etc. was nominated to be Attorney General for the State of Alaska. Sen. Jesse Kiehl stood to speak against the nomination and noted that Clarkson had “worked and intentionally built a repertoire of cases designed to pursue an agenda that should concern all Alaskans.” <— THIS

He also noted that Clarkson sometimes even worked for free to fight the power of the legislature, and against the LGBT community, women, and the needy. He noted that if Clarkson had gotten his way (which he didn’t because his position was unconstitutional), Senator Kiehl himself, because he is Jewish, would not have been allowed to deliver the invocation at a Kenai Assembly meeting. The last time we had a homophobic AG nominee, (Wayne Anthony Ross), he compared gays to lima beans saying he personally doesn’t like lima beans, but if he were on an agricultural board he’d still have to advocate for them. Clarkson has said nothing so notable, but has continually in his career chosen to fight against civil liberties, and against the constitution. He’s also the one who’s now saying that forward funding of education for this year is “unconstitutional.” That means he’d like the governor to be able to veto it just like everything else and right now he can’t. Peter Micchiche (R-Kenai) piped up saying that he didn’t think Clarkson’s religious suit was exclusionary. He just wanted to keep people from allowing Satanic invocations. So not exclusionary, just… exclusionary. Perhaps the solution is to not have religious invocations before secular government meetings. Just a thought. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Kevin Clarkson confirmed as Attorney General 40-19

Senate no votes: Kiehl, Wielechowski, Begich, Gray-Jackson


Price’s appointment was one of the more controversial, since she has no experience as a public safety officer, was terminated from her position in the Walker administration by his Chief of Staff who said she was never there, and also for being “deceptive” about multiple issues during her confirmation hearing (including fudging dates on her education to make it look like she got a four year degree which she didn’t).

Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) spoke against the nomination, in part saying that the her lack of education was not the deal-breaker, but the deception was, and that a person who heads the Department of Public Safety should have character and be honest. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) said she supported Price because she “personally feels” that the attacks are because of “personal issues.” Sen. Peter Micchiche said that people have been walking around with “folders full” of damning information about Price, and that it’s clearly a “WITCH HUNT” (yes, he really said that) because she’s a woman. … He did not mention that four other women nominated to commissioner roles just had just gotten a unanimous confirmation despite their gender. Also, several of his Republican Senate colleagues didn’t share his assessment of sexist witch hunt, and voted against her confirmation. But ultimately, the opposition failed and she was confirmed. The vote included a voice vote from Senator David Wilson (R-Wasilla) (the guy who slapped a journalist and was caught in the ‘upskirt photo’ scandal) who was so excited at the appointment of Ms. Price that he actually yelled out “Yippe-ki-yay!” instead of the traditional “yea.” Mmmkay.

So, Amanda Price was confirmed to Commissioner of Dept. of Public Safety 34-25. Apparently chronic absenteeism which was cited as the reason to get rid of AOGCC member Hollis French doesn’t matter if you’re someone the governor likes, even if you got fired for it.

Senate no votes: Begich, Bishop, Costello, Gray-Jackson, Kawasaki, Kiehl, Giessel, Olson, Shower, Wielechowski. An interesting mix.


The rest of the commissioner picks were less controversial. Here’s a full list of those.


  • Julie Anderson Commissioner, Dept. of Commerce, Community & Economic Development 59-0
  • Nancy Dahlstrom, Commissioner of Dept. of Corrections 59-0
  • Doug Vincent-Lang, Commissioner of Dept. of Fish & Game, 57-1 (Andy Josephson was the no)
  • Tammika Ledbetter, Commissioner of Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development 58-0
  • Torrence Saxe, Commissioner and Adjutant General of the Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs 59-0
  • Corri Feige, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources 59-0
  • Bruce Tangeman, Commissioner of the Department of Revenue 59-0
  • John MacKinnon (husband of recently-retired Senate Finance Co-chair Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) Commissioner of the Department of Transportation 57-2 (Begich and Olson voted no)
  • Michael Johnson, Lieutenant Governor Successor 57-2
  • Kathleen Frederick, Chief Administrative Law Judge 59-0



Then it was on to the appointments to Boards and Commissions. Again most of those were passed without comment, but there were some notable debates on a few.



This is the uber-conservative guy from the Alaska Policy Forum whose gotten quite a reputation for being extreme, and sometimes disturbing. He got caught following Anchorage school buses around attempting to count the number of children getting off at each stop for some kind of volunteer personal research project, and freaked out the bus driver so badly they called the police because they thought he was a creepy stalker. He also has tried and failed multiple times to win a seat on the Anchorage School Board, but has been found utterly unelectable twice. But that means he fits in perfectly with the lost-the-election-get-appointed-by-Dunleavy club. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) and Grier Hopkins (D-Fairbanks) both spoke against him, intimating that he has no experience and his ideas are kind of … loony. Former Anchorage School Board member Harriet Drummond, now a Rep. from Anchorage also spoke in opposition noting his multiple campaign complaints through APOC  (illegal campaign contributions, and pocketing money for his personal use) and his evasion and refusal to be responsive to them. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) mentioned the school bus incident. Despite this, Sen. Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) stood in “full-throated support” of Griffin. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) said she’s disturbed by the APOC reports – not because they call into question his ethics, but because there are legislators who are “victims of APOC.” Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage) said he’ll support Griffin because he lives on the same street and they’re friends.

Bob Griffin is confirmed to the State Board of Education and Early Development 41-18

Senate no votes: Begich, Gray-Jackson, Kawasaki, Olson, Kiehl, Wielechowski




This was one of the more dramatic votes of the night, stretching across hours to re-emerge with a surprise ending. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) had issues because of Johnstone’s “blatant bias” and his love of farmed salmon. (WUT!) He was also a judge who was reprimanded by the Judicial Conduct Commission while on the bench, and given low ranks for integrity. Then, Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage) said two women who worked with the Board of Fisheries came to her and described inappropriate sexual comments he had made to them. John Coghill bolted upright to chide Spohnholz stating this was innuendo, and “a man’s character is up for debate and he can’t defend himself.” Spohnholz said that there were other claims that he was a bully on the board and that these complaints fit the picture. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) said she was really concerned, not that Johnstone had these allegations brought forward, but because she worries for her son sometime in the future being falsely accused of things. And also she doesn’t understand the fish issues but she’ll be voting for him because he’s a “proven leader.” And Chris Birch (R) threw in his two cents saying that the legislature taking into consideration these claims of harassment is “unbecoming of this body.” David Eastman (R-Wasilla) also said Johnstone was being denied due process. Eventually at the request of Sen. Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), a vote was taken and passed to table the discussion while more information was sought. This should make those Republicans who felt he wasn’t there to defend himself happy, right? Now the claims could be more thoroughly investigated before the vote). But no. Most Republicans, despite objections that Johnstone could not defend himself  (including Eastman and Rasmussen) voted NOT to table his nomination so he could address them later… Then by later in the evening, it must have become apparent after legislators chatted during the lengthy ‘at ease’ periods that the votes were not there for Johnstone, so a motion passed to UN-table his nomination. Then the vote.

Karl Johnstone is not confirmed to the Board of Fisheries 24-33

Senate no votes are: Wielechowski, Stedman, Stevens, Begich, Gray-Jackson, Bishop, Hoffman, Micchiche, Kiehl, Olson, Giessel




Andy Josephson spoke to the nomination of Barette to the Board of Game, reminding his colleagues that his nomination had already once been rejected by the legislature under Sean Parnell, and saying that Barette was “one of the most divisive [BoG members] in state history,” calling his advocacy for aggressive and unethical hunting policies like chasing wolves down to exhaustion via snowmachine “beyond the pale.” He also has a track record of voting against Native subsistence preference. You’d think all of this would be enough to ensure his second defeat before the legislature. Birch speaks up for Barette saying yeah, there’s a video of him online skinning a wolf while quoting from the Bible about man’s dominion over animals, and that it’s too bad that it “offends the sensibilities” of “some people.”

Al Barrette is confirmed to the Alaska State Board of Game

Senate no votes: Gray-Jackson, Bert Stedman, Tom Begich.




Vivian Stiver, a renowned an infamous vocal pot prohibitionist from Fairbanks was appointed to the Marijuana Control Board. Grier Hopkins (D-Fairbanks) likened her nomination to putting someone who doesn’t believe in brushing their teeth on to the Board of Dental Examinors. Tammy Wilson (R-North Pole) spoke up in support asking what everyone was afraid of. Public testimony went strongly opposed to her nomination, but so did DEC Commissioner Jason Brune’s. But in this case, the legislature decided that someone should not sit on a board that they think shouldn’t exist. She was VERY narrowly defeated.

Vivian Stiver not confirmed to the Marijuana Control Board, 29-30

Senate no votes: Gray-Jackson, Kawasaki, Kiehl, Micchiche, Wielechowski, Begich




Image from AKLedger, which has a great article on Tavoliero HERE

This one was a doozy – Michael Tavoliero for the Board of Realtors. It was brought up more than once that during his hearing in the Labor & Commerce Committee, he seemed to not understand what board he was being appointed to (!!!), he refused to give clear or easy answers (two Reps said getting him to answer questions was “like pulling teeth”) and he was belligerent to committee members. This is generally not a good plan if you want to be confirmed. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) said that she generally doesn’t get up to speak but she felt compelled to say that in all her years in the legislature, this was the most bizarre candidate interview she’d ever been a part of. THEN, as if all this weren’t enough, his very disturbing Twitter feed surfaced. Filled with Islamophobic tweets and retweets calling Muslims “medieval butchers” and terrorists, and calling for violence with “things that go BANG.” Sara Vance, newly minted Republican Representative from Homer wanted to know something about all this. Namely… how these tweets are relevant to his position on the board. [stunned silence] It was pointed out to her that incitement to violence on a population of people some of whom he would be having dealings with in his board capacity might be a problem. Rep. Fields said that in the committee meeting, Tavoliero blamed a “digital assistant” for the posts at first. But then recanted. Vance said what about free speech? Again – INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE is not covered by the first amendment. “Stick to the facts!” says Senate President Cathy Giessel to a bewildered Rep. Fields. Again, the fact is that he’s endorsing acts of violence… oh nevermind.

Michael Tavaliero is not confirmed to the Alaska Board of Realtors, 50-7

Yes votes in the Senate were Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), Lora Rinebold (R-Eagle River), and David Wilson (R-Wasilla).




No surprise that his sister, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, was one of the yes votes for the “combative” “bizarre” Islamophobe with the horrendous social media account because apparently it runs in the family. Next up was “Mayor Dan” Sullivan who was appointed to the State Regulatory Board. And he seems to have no problems with his own brand of unfathomably racially insensitive social media postings. It was briefly mentioned that he posts racist divisive stuff like THIS:

But not that many people seemed to care on this one. So, he’ll now be enjoying his six-figure salary from the State.

No votes from the Senate were Begich, Gray-Jackson, Kawasaki, and Wielechowski




And finally… John Francis. He’s the ghost hunter appointed to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board that riled up Eagle River Republican Lora Rinebold who wanted none of this paranormal stuff. She brought up again his claim to have felt a ghost pass through him and wondered aloud how he would deal with people who had lost loved ones. The other objection which wasn’t quite as exciting was Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) pointing out that Francis had left a lot of criminal history out of his background. And when he disclosed it, he didn’t disclose ALL of it. David Eastman, who seems to never get tired or tired of talking on the floor, felt it necessary to share a weird story about his kids who thought there was a ghost in the house but it turned out that it was just a toy robot that was up in a hidden loft in his kids’ room that he didn’t know existed. He had to be told twice to stick to the point. The point was, I guess, that the ghost hunter’s job was to figure out things like the talking robot in the unknown loft and that ghost hunting is a community service. Nevertheless…

John Francis not confirmed to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board 48-9

Senate YES votes were Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), Mike Shower (R-Wasilla), and David Wilson (R-Wasilla).

Only the Islamophobe did worse.

And that’s a wrap.

Oh wait! David Eastman has one more thing to say… He’d like to reconsider his yes vote on Vivian Stiver. He’s told there are no votes of reconsideration allowed during confirmation hearings, and the gavel falls before he can think of anything else.


This article is reposted with permission from the Alaska Democratic Party



4 Responses to “Governor’s Appointments – Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    This here is my iowa wingnut, dumbf#ck congressweasel claiming kinship with Jesus after House of Reprehensible’s rebuke for racist remarks.

    I’d challenge Alaska wingnuts to outdo this, but they just might. One other side note for women who are dead tired of being disrespected by one \particular political party, the US threatens to veto UN resolution outlawing rape as a weapon of war because the resolution contains langwidge about family planning.
    Like Juanita Jean says, I hate republicans. I really do. Ditto for moi.

  2. Really? says:

    Thank you ,Jeanne , for your patience in sitting through almost 8 hours of the confirming process, so we wouldn’t have to! And I want you to know I think your ability to write such comprehensive articles is amazing. I’m glad you tell it like it is, as unbelievable as it seems to me that a governor would “pick” such unqualified, unfeeling, liars as..people to represent Alaskans. I thank public television and 360North for Alaskans to be able to see the legislative process in action! I have taken great pleasure in being able to watch some of the “talk” . I was impressed with Valarie Davidson and all the people who spoke out about foster children in Alaska. There are some truly loving, caring Alaskans “out there” who absolutely care about children.
    Governor D is going to be giving his fiscal presentation in Tok, April 23@1:30 – 2:30 Tuesday in the Mainstreet Visitors Center meeting room. I’ve been to meetings there, it’s a small room, enought for local community meetings, and enough room for “the food” table. No talk about paying to get in,etc….. Thank you, and I enjoy the press clips.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Alaska has their share of Louie Gohmerts, Steve Kings, Michele “One L” (so as not to be confused with the elegant and intelligent Michelle Obama) Bachmanns.

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