Transition shakes up state jobs

Posted: Monday, November 18, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- As the outgoing administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles yields to the incoming administration of Republican Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski, hundreds of jobs hang in the balance.

There are about 700 executive branch employees without civil service protection who can be removed at any time, according to Commissioner of Administration Jim Duncan. But, he added, ''no administration has ever gone to that depth.''

The governor's Cabinet -- commissioners of the 14 principal agencies -- probably will turn over completely after the Dec. 2 inauguration. Only Attorney General Bruce Botelho served in the previous administration of Wally Hickel, the longtime Republican who won election as an Alaskan Independence Party candidate in 1990.

Given that Murkowski ran against the record of the current administration, ''you've got to have a clean break here,'' Clive Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, told the Anchorage Daily News. ''You really do have a new direction. There's a symbolic thing here, as well as substantive.''

Most commissioners say they weren't putting their futures on hold pending the outcome of the Nov. 5 gubernatorial election, in which Republican U.S. Sen. Murkowski defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. But most also say they need some time off before planning the next chapter in their careers.

Commissioner of Corrections Margaret Pugh, who is 56 years old and a 32-year state employee, will retire. Pugh's son-in-law Jim Nordlund managed Ulmer's campaign.

''I wasn't waiting for the outcome of the election to make my personal decision,'' Pugh said. ''This was, for me, planned.''

But some lower-level gubernatorial appointees might have held out hope for positions in an Ulmer administration, said Bob King, press secretary for the governor. Ulmer never discussed it, he added.

For deputy commissioners, special assistants and division directors within state agencies, employment prospects in a Murkowski administration vary widely, said Gregg Erickson, editor of the Alaska Budget Report. He's a former state division director who lost his job early in the Hickel administration.

''If you're an administrative services director at an agency like DNR, for example, and you want to stay on, I think there's a really good chance you will,'' Erickson said. ''If you're the director of a real politically hot position like public assistance or a special assistant who's been making legislators mad for years, probably not.''

Some administration officials got out early.

Jim Ayers, Knowles' chief of staff for seven years, resigned at the beginning of the year to head up the North Pacific office of the environmental group Oceana. Karen Perdue, former commissioner of health and social services, left the Cabinet in August 2001 to take an associate vice presidency with the University of Alaska.

For executive branch employees based in Juneau, losing a job ''usually means you have to move if you want a comparable salary,'' said Erickson, the newsletter editor.

Deputy Revenue Commissioner Larry Persily wants to stay on.

''I'm not old enough to retire,'' he said. ''I'm not rich enough to retire.''

Persily, a former newspaper editor, was the administration's liaison with the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, a group of legislators who pushed for new revenue measures to fill the state fiscal gap. He has expressed doubt that accelerated development of natural resources can avert a budget crash.

Of his job prospects in an administration that has pledged not to raise taxes, Persily said, ''Hopefully, honesty is a good policy.''

And what of the job prospects for soon-to-be ex-Gov. Knowles?

Knowles' chief of staff David Ramseur said the governor, who will return to Anchorage, has never discussed his future.

Asked about his plans this fall, Knowles told a reporter, ''My wife said I can train my black Lab finally, the young one.''

But Thomas of UAS voiced the conventional wisdom.

''The word is he's going to run against whoever Murkowski appoints to the U.S. Senate,'' he said. ''He's the most prominent state Democrat. He seems to be the logical person.''

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