JUNEAU (AP) -- Sen. Robin Taylor questioned Thursday whether it would be grounds for impeachment if Gov. Tony Knowles doesn't appeal the Katie John subsistence case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the first day of a special session on cruise ship legislation, Taylor, R-Wrangell, pre-empted a scheduled hearing on the cruise ship bill so the Judiciary Committee he heads could talk about the subsistence case.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May affirmed its 1995 ruling in the Katie John case that led to federal takeover of subsistence fishing in most Alaska waters. Katie John, an Athabascan elder and grandmother, sued the Interior Department in 1991, asking the department to force the state to let her set subsistence salmon nets at her Copper River fish camp.
Knowles spokesman Bob King said Thursday the governor hasn't decided whether to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling. He has until Aug. 5 to do so.
A state Supreme Court ruled several years ago in a separate case that the state has jurisdiction over navigable waters. Taylor asked a lawyer for the Republican-led majority if -- based on the state court ruling -- Knowles would be violating his oath to uphold the laws of the state by not appealing the federal court ruling.
''It's a more involved question than I could probably answer right now,'' lawyer Ted Popely said. But he said it's possible it could be grounds for impeachment.
Minority Democrats called the hearing a tactic to divert attention from the cruise ship legislation that brought lawmakers to town, at a cost of $25,000 a day. The Judiciary Committee meeting delayed a scheduled Transportation Committee on the cruise ship bill by two hours.
''To start talking about impeachment is the kind of negative, bitter partisanship that is highly destructive,'' added Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.
Taylor, who lost a race for governor to Knowles in 1998, said after the meeting that he is not threatening impeachment.
He said holding the meeting during a special session on cruise ship legislation was justified.
''I can imagine no issue of greater importance to the state of Alaska than the sovereignty of this state,'' Taylor said.
Taylor had asked Attorney General Bruce Botelho to show up for the meeting and said he had been told Botelho was in the building. But by the time the committee gathered, Botelho had left and the Knowles' administration declined to send another representative to the meeting.
King said Botelho was on a Boy Scout hike Thursday afternoon. King had little to say about Taylor's impeachment talk.
''That's the senator's opinion, I guess,'' King said.
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