Lawmakers oust Ketchikan pilot from board

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Legislature refused to confirm a Ketchikan pilot to a second term on the Alaska Board of Marine Pilots on Sunday after Senate President Drue Pearce claimed his reappointment violated an agreement to rotate the seat on a regional basis.

Michael Spence's reappointment failed 29-30 in a joint session despite protests from Southeast Alaska lawmakers and the Knowles administration that the agreement never existed.

Lawmakers approved 59 of Gov. Tony Knowles' 62 appointments to state boards and commissions without objection. The appointments of former Rep. Katie Hurley of Wasilla to the Alaska Judicial Council and Josh Horst of Juneau to the student seat on the University of Alaska Board of Regents were voted on and approved.

Pearce contended that Knowles' reappointment of Spence violated an informal 1995 agreement that the two pilot seats on the seven-member Board of Marine Pilots would rotate between Southeast Alaska, Western Alaska, and Southcentral Alaska.

The three regions have distinctly different shipping traffic and piloting concerns. Southeast pilots handle mostly cruise ships and freighter, Southcentral pilots deal primarily with oil tankers and freighters and Southwest pilots work mostly with big fish processors and tramp freighters.

All ships over 300 tons must carry qualified Alaska pilot while in state waters.

''Reappointing the Southeast pilot representative again would deprive the Southcentral region of its deserved rotational representation on the board and would violate the intent of the Legislature,'' Pearce, R-Anchorage, wrote in a letter to lawmakers urging them to vote no. She conceded that the agreement was not written into the law.

The Knowles administration, Southeast Alaska pilots' organizations, and lawmakers from the region said the agreement never existed and argued that Spence deserved to remain.

''The administration did not agree to tie rotation to regions as you suggest, nor was anyone from the administration involved in making such an agreement,'' Cindy Smith, Knowles' director of boards and commissions, wrote in a letter to Pearce.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said Southeast Alaska accounts for 44 percent of Alaska's ship traffic and more than half of its pilots.

''Take him off the board and more than 50 percent of the pilots in the state have no representative on the board,'' said Taylor.

The vote means Knowles will have to appoint another pilot to replace Spence.

Spence said Pearce's action undermined recent improvements on the Board of Marine Pilots with political gerrymandering.

''I really think that that issue was a red herring,'' Spence said. ''All the pilots in this part of Alaska, which amount to 60 percent of the pilots in the state, don't know anything about this agreement.''

The appointment of Hurley, a Democrat, to the Judicial Council was fought by Sen. Loren Leman. Leman, R-Anchorage, objected to her role in a 1998 lawsuit attacking a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at banning gay marriage. In response to the lawsuit, the Alaska Supreme Court altered the wording of that amendment and tossed another amendment off the ballot entirely.

''My concern is with Mrs. Hurley's political and judicial philosophy,'' said Leman, R-Anchorage, who contends the court overstepped its bounds in the case.

Hurley served as chief clerk of the state's Constitutional Convention.

The Judicial Council reviews applicants qualifications for judgeships and forwards a short list to the governor, who then appoints judges. Appointing Hurley, Leman and other conservatives argued, would give a liberal activist power in that selection process.

''I think a lot of her,'' said Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole. ''But I think we need to have someone in this position who is more balanced.''

Democrats leaped to Hurley's defense, saying she should be honored for long service to the state.

''Her integrity is beyond reproach,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

Hurley's appointment was approved 42-18.

The final vote of the session was over a normally noncontroversial appointment -- the student representative on the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

Sen. Pete Kelly objected to Horst's confirmation because the University of Alaska Southeast student had opposed a bill granting the university 250,000 acres of state land as a money-raising endowment. Opponents of the land grant worry it would lead the university to exploit the land hastily and without regard for environmental concerns.

''I want the leader of the students to be someone who knows that money doesn't just grow on trees,'' said Kelly, R-Fairbanks. ''Sometimes trees have to get cut. Sometimes bulldozers have to get started up.''

Lawmakers from both parties responded by praising Horst's leadership skills and willingness to consider others' ideas.

''The university is a place where difference of opinion is not only sought but celebrated,'' said Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks.

Horst's reappointment was confirmed 44-15.

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