Alaska House votes down ethics board alternate member, citing signature on Dunleavy recall petition

the Alaska Legislature
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives listen to a speech by Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska House of Representatives on Monday rejected the appointment of a Juneau woman as an alternate to the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, reflecting broader Republican dissatisfaction with the committee, which considers complaints against members of the Legislature.

The vote on Rachel Kelly, a Juneau resident nominated to fill a public seat on the committee, was 23-16, with all of the “no” votes coming from Republican members of the House. One member was excused absent. Twenty-seven votes were needed to confirm the appointment.

The House approved two other appointments — Dennis “Skip” Cook of Fairbanks and Joyce Anderson of Anchorage — with the bare minimum 27 votes needed. Again, all of the votes in opposition were from Republicans.

All three nominees had previously received the needed confirmation votes from the state Senate, which raised no issues during the votes.

The situation was different in the House, where lawmakers on Monday said they doubted the ability of Cook and Kelly to be impartial, in part because they signed the petition seeking to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, from office.

State law bars members of the ethics committee from most political activity, including making political donations and signing ballot measures, and members of the House who spoke on Monday said they viewed the petition signature as a violation of that prohibition.

In a tumultuous March confirmation hearing, members of the House Judiciary Committee castigated all three nominees, volunteers for public seats on the commission.

Legislators questioned Anderson about her participation in a lawsuit, as a member of the League of Women Voters, against the Alaska Division of Elections about the inability of voters to fix incorrect signatures on absentee ballots.

In particular, members of the committee focused on the ethics committee’s decision to hire Anderson as a temporary administrator after the sudden death of its prior longtime administrator. 

Anderson, who has served on the committee for several years, took a leave of absence from her volunteer role in order to temporarily serve as a paid employee. 

State law prohibits an employee of the Legislature from serving in a Legislature-appointed position, and Anderson’s leave of absence was authorized by the committee to avoid breaking the law, but the authorization took place retroactively, after Anderson had become a legislative employee.

Republicans on the judiciary committee said they felt the switch was a problem, and they criticized Cook for authorizing it and Anderson for participating in it.

Afterward, Anderson was nominated for another term on the ethics committee while still serving as a temporary legislative employee.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the letter of law is one thing, but the ethics committee should be held to a higher standard, and its actions should pass “the red-face test,” meaning that if someone can’t explain their actions without their face reddening from embarrassment, they shouldn’t do it.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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