In a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, Bob Bell’s daughter assured us he’s “always followed regulations.” It’s time to dispel that familial fantasy. I can do it in Papa Bell’s own words. He’s admitted to multiple violations. He just doesn’t like to call them violations.
Poor Bob Bell. Every once in a while a reporter questions him on his ethics and he gives a perfectly candid answer, only to find himself in hot water. Like when he admitted not listing his company’s clients on pre-election disclosure forms, admitted not reporting an attempted bribe when he was on the Anchorage Assembly, and failed to comply with state hunting regulations during a musk ox hunt while he was on the Alaska Board of Game.
It doesn’t help that he’s running for the Alaska state Senate. If he wants our vote, he has to subscribe to a set of ethical standards. Doesn’t he?
But once Bell admits to what most of us might consider a serious lapse in judgment, he changes his story or clams up, his lawyer thunders in, and anyone who knows anything about it is ordered to stop talking to the press. At worst, he gets a slap on the wrist.
Last week, Bell was fined by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for failure to disclose his company’s clients. Bell’s engineering consultancy firm had 187 clients, among them BP, Exxon Mobil Corp., and oilfield service contractors. BP’s contract alone was worth at least $1 million in 2011. Bell’s list of clients is crucial information for the upcoming election. The subsequent legislative session -- perhaps with Bell’s name added to its roll call -- will decide whether to lower oil industry taxes. Bell’s APOC fine? A whopping $390.
Trying to explain the unassailability of his ethics, Bell told a reporter that in 1996, when he was running for his second term on the Anchorage Assembly, a representative of VECO, once Alaska’s largest oilfield contractor, had offered him a bribe for his support in building a prison in South Anchorage. According to Bell, he responded, “Ain’t going to happen.” But after admitting he didn’t report the incident to the authorities and being told that swapping an engineering contract for political support could be a crime, Bell replied, “It is?”
State wildlife troopers have closed the case on whether Bell and several hunting partners broke the law during a 2010 subsistence musk ox hunt near Nome by illegally taking the horns home as trophies. In a series of conversations with reporters, Bell admitted that he has a full set of horns from the hunt on his dining room wall. That is a cut-and-dried violation of state law, which requires each horn to be sawed in half to destroy its trophy value. Of course, now he’s changed his tune. He’s not sure the horns hanging on his wall belonged to the musk ox he shot. And every official who had intimate knowledge of the affair -- Nome-based trooper Jay Sears, Nome wildlife biologist Tony Gorn, and Gorn’s supervisor, Steve Machida -- has been told they can’t talk to the media about the issue.
Bell objects to reporters who, he claims, mischaracterize what he’s told them. But the rap sheet doesn’t end with these recent disclosures. Sometimes Bell tattles on himself in ways that aren’t so easily retracted. He’s really his own worst enemy. For example, he’s written a book confessing how he often doesn’t know what he’s doing in Alaska’s wild country and admitting he’s committed at least six additional hunting violations.
But wait, there’s more
The worst crime of all may be the name of his book, "Oh No! We’re Gonna Die: Humorous Tales of Close Calls in the Alaska Wilderness." Incredibly, the book was published in 2006, before Bell was appointed to the Alaska Board of Game by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. Either Murkowski, his advisors, and the legislators who voted to confirm Bell’s appointment all missed this glimpse into the way Bell scoffs at hunting transgressions, or they liked what they read. Bell was confirmed and served three years on the Board of Game, one of a handful of political appointees charged with regulating hunting in the state.
But back to his book. On page 21, Bell recalled a moose hunt in “Denali country.” He had spotted a bull lying nearby in the willows, but before he could act another bull sauntered into his crosshairs. When he pulled the trigger, the recoil caused him to lose sight of the moose “for a second.” He saw the moose running and shot him again. Only it turns out this was the first moose. Yes, he had killed two moose and the bag limit was one. If it had happened to me, I’d have been horrified. Bell and his partner were “delighted.” Presumably, the partner claimed the second moose on his tag and the violation was never reported to a state enforcement officer. A photo on the following page shows a middle-aged Bell, with a full head of dark hair, so this incident probably occurred at least 20 years ago.
On the way home, Bell and his partners encountered a “game warden” at a Fish and Game checkpoint on the Denali Highway. Here was a perfect opportunity for Bell to admit his mistake and suffer the consequences. He didn’t. Instead, he congratulated himself on avoiding another sticky situation. He and his buddies had loaded the meat from three moose into their trucks. Another hunter’s moose had been stored in the “meat shed” at the lodge they had flown into, and they had taken their two trophies and all the meat. Bell claims this was an honest mistake. But anyone who’s carried a moose from one point to another has enough sense to count the quarters. The hindquarter of an adult bull can weigh over a hundred pounds. It’s hard to believe they carried 12 quarters, in addition to other heavily loaded game bags, and didn’t notice anything odd. Bell claims the butcher finally told him, days later, that they had delivered meat from three moose. Technically, transporting moose meat without a note signed by its owner is a violation. So is transporting moose meat obtained in an antler-restricted hunt without bringing out the antlers.
A similar thing happened years later. On page 98, Bell described stalking a group of four bulls with three partners. The bulls were near a small island of trees in the middle of a large clearing. Bell “picked out a nice bull and dropped him with one shot” at 75 yards. The other bulls ran. As Bell approached the clump of trees, he wrote, “I noticed that my bull was back on its feet so I shot him again.” One of his partners had to yell at him to stop shooting. Two dead bulls were found 15 feet apart. But, according to Bell’s account, no one seemed unduly chagrined.
In a photo on the following page, a much older, but no wiser, Bell is pictured with one of the “camp” bulls. Camp bull seems to be his euphemism for a “party” limit, a combined harvest of fish or game that is taken indiscriminately and sorted out later. Party limits are illegal in Alaska.
Having admitted, in writing, to breaking the law, you’d think Bell would at least attempt to explain how he rectified his error. Something like, “As soon as we landed back in Anchorage, I called the state troopers and reported having taken two bulls.” Because he didn’t, I can only assume that once again he didn’t report harvesting a bull illegally.
So far Bell’s racked up at least four misdemeanors: two for shooting a second bull and two for not reporting the violations. If I had been working that hunter checkpoint, I’d have written someone in his party another citation for transporting the third bull without a note, because his excuse was inexcusable. I can tell you from experience that that would have wiped the smiles off their faces.
On page 60, Bell recounted a caribou hunt along Lake Louise Road nearly 30 years ago. He and a partner came upon a parked station wagon with two caribou standing in the road 50 feet behind the vehicle. The occupants of the station wagon, two hunters, were blissfully unaware of the caribou until Bell’s vehicle “slid to a halt” and they “piled out of the truck” and “went to one knee” and “opened up on the caribou,” hitting both.
Bell seems to subscribe to the shoot-fast-sort-‘em-out-later school of hunting.
It’s illegal to shoot on, from, or across the drivable surface of any constructed road. Since the caribou were standing on the road and Bell doesn’t describe walking into the ditch before they knelt and started shooting, I suspect this is another violation. At the very least it was unbelievably thoughtless and unsafe to shoot at something with people sitting in the line of fire.
Again, you’d think this would be a good opportunity for Bell to explain, in meticulous detail, how he avoided shooting the caribou on, from, or across the road. Instead, he portrayed himself as a well-seasoned Alaskan hunter to react so quickly, first frightening then embarrassing the cheechakos in the station wagon.
Does Bell's history matter when running for office?
Despite providing multiple examples of near-death experiences due to being unprepared, Bell’s book celebrates his survival skills and dumb luck. He consistently seems to shake off his pursuers, be they bears, reporters or state wildlife troopers.
Nagging questions remain, however. Are we supposed to believe what he says or not?
In early 2007, during a Board of Game confirmation hearing by the House Resources Standing Committee, Bell told legislators he had been hunting in Game Management Unit 16B for 20 years, but that the unit had since been closed to hunting. He decried “the impacts of policies that did not protect the moose quickly enough.” “We should have done something about this sooner,” he added.
Bell was speaking from experience. Unfortunately, the “something” he referred to was the state-sponsored shooting of wolves and bears, not arresting him and others like him for shooting twice as many moose as the law allowed.
Like the other alleged violations Bell has sidestepped, he’ll do no time for these self-professed hunting violations. He can always say he exaggerated. He can take the Fifth Amendment. Perhaps he can argue that the statute of limitations has expired. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t do what he says he did. In his own words, he’s pretty happy about the hunting violations he’s gotten away with.
Bell is the Alaska Republican Party’s choice for the state senate seat in West Anchorage. Although he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, he keeps admitting he’s broken the law. Is anyone wondering whether someone with such profound ignorance of, or reckless disregard for, the law might not make the best legislator?
Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch.