Attorney general's resignation a relief

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Saturday's announcement that Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes has resigned will likely be met with relief and dismay in the capital.

Republicans in the House and Senate will be expressing the relief, for no matter how many times Mr. Renkes is exonerated of wrongdoing in his involvement in an Alaska-Taiwan coal agreement, a strong outward appearance of a conflict of interest exists since he owned stock in a company that stood to benefit. One report, from an outside investigator hired by the governor, already essentially cleared the attorney general but said it was ''a close call.''

If Mr. Renkes were to remain in the job, Republican legislators would find themselves continually hounded by Democrats, who would seek to boost their party's 2006 election prospects by painting the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski as a cabal of thieves and Mr. Renkes' legislative protectors as guardians of hell's gates.

But with Mr. Renkes departing, Republicans will be allowed to advance their legislative priorities without the distraction of regular chest-thumping from the minority party across the aisle. In truth, though, even some within the GOP had grown uncomfortable over Mr. Renkes' actions and explanations regarding the coal agreement and his stock ownership in a company with coal-drying technology.

Relief isn't limited to the halls of the Legislature, however. It may also come from those working toward the governor's re-election next year. For if the governor does seek re-election, he cannot afford to be saddled with a tainted attorney general. And that is what he would have if Mr. Renkes were to remain. The two men have a long relationship, but loyalty can end up the loser when confronting a re-election campaign. Of course, Mr. Renkes may have been demonstrating loyalty himself by resigning, thereby freeing the man he has worked with for more than a decade in Washington, D.C., and Alaska.

The dismay in Juneau will, expectedly, come from the Democrats, who have now lost their high-profile wounded GOP demon. ...

... It's a certainty that those tactics, displayed by both parties across this nation so many times in recent years, would have continued — regardless of the findings of a separate inquiry under way by the state Personnel Board, which is investigating a bipartisan complaint that the attorney general violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

Beyond Juneau, Mr. Renkes' departure should refocus the public. With important issues such as the financial difficulties of the state-run retirement systems, the natural gas pipeline, oil field taxation, education funding and so on needing attention, Alaskans can't afford to be distracted by scandal. ...

— The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Feb. 1

Mr. Renkes at least displayed poor judgment by thinking his holding of roughly $126,000 of stock in the coal company in question would not raise conflict of interest issues. In the end, though, it seems he displayed good judgment by stepping aside and denying his opponents further opportunity for political gain.

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