Our view: Threat or promise?

Kookesh comments out of line

January 25, 2010 

If there's an ethics complaint in the works against Sen. Al Kookesh of Angoon, then due process will take its course. But the senator's comments before the Craig City Council can't be read as anything other than no-veil-at-all threat to play ball with Sealaska, the senator's regional Native corporation, or pay the price when Craig brings its wish list to the Legislature.

Here's what he said about the council members' debate over a bill in Congress that would give Sealaska thousands of acres of timber land on Prince of Wales Island.

"I am the state senator that represents Craig. I'm not a vindictive person. I see you're going to have your 2010 capital projects on the table here tonight. And who's it going to go to? It's going to go to me. And to (Rep.) Bill Thomas, who is also a Sealaska board member. We have to be good neighbors.

"There are times you are going to need my help and Bill Thomas' help. And this is a time we need yours."

Let's apply the duck test, where the duck is the threat to make Craig pay for lack of cooperation, or failure to be "good neighbors."

Does it walk like a duck? Waddle.

Does it talk like a duck? Quack.

Whether stung by a formal ethics charge or not, Sen. Kookesh can't duck this one. His comments were a raw power play to bend the city council's will toward supporting Sealaska's land claim.

The conflict inherent in his roles as both a senator and a Sealaska executive demand that Kookesh draw a hard, bright line between the two jobs and not use his state role as a lever to get what he wants for his regional corporation -- especially to suggest that one of his constituent communities may suffer if it dares to oppose what his regional corporation wants.

Sen. Kookesh should maintain that hard, bright line by staying completely out of the Craig council's deliberation of the issue. Sealaska can make its case for support on the merits, without the senator. Alaskans have had enough with conflicts of interest -- and with abuses of power.

BOTTOM LINE: Sen. Kookesh didn't just step over the line, he jumped with both feet. He should jump back.

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