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Circling the wagons on the attorney general texting scandal

  • Author: Mark Widdicombe
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 27, 2020
  • Published November 27, 2020

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson answers questinos on September 26, 2019, as Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka listen. (Marc Lester / ADN)

I deeply appreciate the clarity of Kyle Hopkins’ long article about the resignation of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson for his sexual harassment of a low-level staffer. For me, there are five clear takeaways despite all the denials and obfuscation.

1. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s chief of staff, Ben Stevens, sat on the complaint for at least two months and only acted once the scandal became public. Stevens is quoted as telling the reporter: “For what reason would I do anything to prevent the truth coming out for anybody?” I think Stevens hopes the question is rhetorical. It isn’t. The answer is easy: to save the unpopular Dunleavy administration from embarrassment during the efforts to recall the governor.

2. Stevens — who some readers will remember was associated with the VECO scandal in 2007 — told the woman who was sexually harassed by Clarkson to deny the harassment ever took place. Stevens claims he would have no reason to protect Clarkson. That’s nonsense. As chief of staff to an unpopular and ethically challenged governor, of course he would. Stevens hides behind feeling “insulted” by the charge — the last refuge of someone without a decent comeback.

3. Repeatedly, the Dunleavy administration tried to tie the scandal to the recall movement. This is right out of the “smear your opponent” playbook. It doesn’t work. The fault is Clarkson’s and the Dunleavy administration’s. The recall movement is irrelevant to that.

4. Repeatedly, the Dunleavy administration stonewalled the press about records related to the scandal under the Alaska Public Records Act, or APRA. It did so by citing the supposed privacy of personnel matters, even though the law is clear that such privacy does not cover this situation.

5. Disgraced former Attorney General Clarkson himself ruled on the APRA request by denying it even though the scandal directly involved him. We know that there are many, many text messages from Clarkson, but he indicates “the Department of Law has no records.” A subordinate, Chief Assistant Attorney General Alan Birnbaum, who apparently lives in an ethics-free zone as well, then went on record to say that there was no conflict of interest in Clarkson’s having ruled on his own case. Well, that’s a stretcher.

As usual in politics, it’s not just the scandal that stinks — it’s the cover-up, too. The injured party will doubtless settle with the state for a significant amount of money because of the combined stupidity and loutishness of Birnbaum, Clarkson, Dunleavy and Stevens. Well she should. It would be nice if the public came to know for how much money; it would be nicer still if it came out of their paychecks. I’m not holding my breath, though — on either wish.

Toby Widdicombe has lived in Anchorage for almost 30 years. He works as a professor of English at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is unimpressed by the political class.

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