JUNEAU -- Faced with the embarrassing prospect that legalizing an Outsider's appointment to the state gas line board could derail a domestic violence bill, House Speaker Mike Chenault on Thursday pulled back from one parliamentary tactic and offered another to validate the Texan's appointment.
The rare display of backroom strategy backfiring in public took place at a hearing of the House Rules Committee, itself an unusual occurrence.
In a contrite statement at the Rules Committee, of which he is a member, Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski, said he must have been mistaken to believe the sponsor of the domestic violence bill, Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, would accept his amendment without objection.
"I just want to make it clear to the public that there is not and has never been an intent to place the Domestic Violence Council at risk on my part," Chenault said. "I know that my caucus, the House of Representatives and the Senate would never jeopardize such an important entity in our state."
Meyer on Wednesday said Chenault had "hijacked" his popular bill to extend the life of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to 2022. The council was due to expire in June under a sunset provision. The Senate passed Meyer's bill 20-0.
Peggy Brown, an advocate for the council, compared Chenault's action to "tossing a bomb on a moving train" by attaching a controversial, politics-laden amendment to a bill that had broad support and was assured quick passage.
Chenault tried to amend Meyer's bill before it hit the House floor to allow Gov. Sean Parnell to appoint Richard Rabinow, a Houston resident and former ExxonMobil executive, to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. Rabinow's appointment in September was due to be confirmed by the Legislature next week but he got swept up in the controversy over another appointment of an Outsider, Californian Dennis Mandell, to the board that determines the value of the trans-Alaska pipeline for taxation purposes.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker pointed out that Mandell's appointment appeared to be in conflict with a 1973 law that said appointees to Alaska boards and commissions had to be Alaska voters. Mandell withdrew his application but attention suddenly focused on Rabinow.
House and Senate Democrats said that the gas line board should only contain Alaskans who understood the importance of getting natural gas to Alaska. If experts like Rabinow were needed to develop the line, they should be hired, not installed in policy-setting positions, the Democrats said.
Chenault, one of the original sponsors of the bill that created the gas line corporation, said it was never his intention to limit board positions to just Alaskans. But drafters made an "oversight" to not amend the 1973 law at the time, he said.
With the current Legislature in its final weeks, it's too late under the rules for a member to introduce new legislation. But the domestic violence council bill had at least a tenuous connection to the corporation -- both have boards -- and Chenault thought he could fix his gas line problem by amending the domestic violence bill.
New legislation can still be introduced by a committee, and Chenault said the Rules Committee would send a fresh bill to the House Friday.
"I want us to be make sure that we can have a vote on the confirmation on his merits, and that means his appointment has to be allowable by statute," Chenault said. But the bill would have to go through at least one committee in each chamber and pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by next week. Chenault said it could be done.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 907-500-7388.
By RICHARD MAUER