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Alaskans work the gears of the Trump transition

  • Author:
  • Updated: December 9, 2016
  • Published December 8, 2016

WASHINGTON — A handful of Alaskans are circling the Washington and New York headquarters for president-elect Donald Trump in hopes of scoring a position — or influence of any sort — with the new administration.

Over the last week, two Alaskans hoping to be tapped to lead the Interior Department came through Washington, D.C. — multimillionaire investor Bob Gillam and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. In recent days, Jerry Ward, who headed up the Trump campaign in Alaska, blew into town on official business for the inaugural committee.

One by one Trump's transition committee has been announcing Cabinet secretary selections. Thus far, Alaska's congressional delegation seems mostly happy with those chosen. Senate rules require only 51 votes to confirm nominees, and thus far, Republican opposition appears unlikely.

Bob Gillam (Courtesy Bob Gillam)

Gillam and Treadwell are both angling to head the Interior Department. Treadwell has drawn explicit support from Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young. He met with Sen. Dan Sullivan as well.

In an early morning phone call from his ultimate destination — South Korea — Treadwell said he was actually in Washington, D.C., for a few days for his work as vice-chair of a multistate group that advocates for ratifying a federal balanced budget amendment.

But "it's been great to have the support of the Alaska delegation," Treadwell said of his well-known interest in the Interior Department spot.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski heads to a Senate Republican Caucus organizing meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16. (Al Drago / The New York Times)

Murkowski, who has voiced support for Mead Treadwell (but not much specific about it), said through spokeswoman Karina Petersen that she planned to meet with each of "the nominees that require Senate confirmation to gauge their understanding of issues important to Alaska, to share her views, and to express the concerns Alaskans have raised. She will closely examine the merits of each candidate before arriving at a final decision."

Ultimately, much of the transition process happens outside of Washington, and in the headquarters of the president-elect. In this case, that means Trump Tower in Manhattan. "Pool" reporters from national organizations stake out the lobby all day, documenting the comings and goings of potential nominees and a small group of Trump insiders that meet with the president-elect each day.

But Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, has been tasked with leading the transition, and has been traveling between New York and Washington, D.C. Young's spokesman Matt Shuckerow said Wednesday that the lawmaker has a call scheduled with Pence this week to discuss the transition and appointments.

Despite the relatively small inner-circle, there is an ever-widening cast of policy experts, political insiders and planning professionals in Washington, preparing to take over the alphabet-soup of government agencies that fall under the executive branch.

The Trump transition team announces additions to "landing teams" that meet with agency heads every few days.

And the inaugural committee has begun planning for the swearing-in ceremony that will take place Jan. 20, as well as the parade, speeches and inaugural balls that come with it.

Jerry Ward relaxes at his real estate office, which served as Team Trump Alaska Headquarters, on Nov. 9 in South Anchorage. Ward was the Alaska state director for the Donald Trump campaign. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

A chance to join the inaugural committee has drawn at least one Alaskan to the nation's capital: Jerry Ward, a one-time state senator and former head of the Trump campaign in Alaska.

Ward arrived in Washington Monday after getting a call Saturday asking him to help out with the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, an affair run by Congress, the military and the president's transition team.

He's helped out on Alaska gubernatorial inaugurals, but found the scope and scale of the planning for the Washington, D.C., festivities to be on a whole other level.

Ward noted that he has not spoken with Donald Trump, or any of the Alaskans seeking Cabinet-level positions. He did attend a holiday party held by the Alaska State Society this week.

Each office of the congressional delegation will receive tickets to distribute to constituents, but none have been told how many yet. Each have established sign-up lists on their websites — here, here and here. You don't need tickets to attend the inauguration — it's open to everyone. But seats within sight of the stage (and not a standing-spot under a jumbotron down by Washington Monument) do require a ticket.

Ward said he has been collecting names from interested people back in Alaska. "I'm not sure how this process works, but I think they're going to tell me," he said.

Ward, an Alaska Native who represented Southcentral Alaska as a state senator from 1997 to 2002, is also doing some "liaison" work for the Trump campaign regarding Native issues, he said. The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for information about Ward's role in the transition.

Ward said he met this week with representatives with the National Congress of American Indians and the Navajo Nation, and planned to meet with Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who was also briefly in D.C. and formerly served as president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

He said he reports back to a member of the Trump transition team, but his main purpose for coming East was his work for the inaugural committee.

Meanwhile, Alaskans Gillam and Treadwell have both been quietly angling for the top Interior Department post. Treadwell, who has a long history of work with the congressional delegation, has drawn a bit more support than the often-elusive and wealthy Gillam.

Young said he knows Gillam and spoke with him on the phone.

Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young participates in a candidates forum at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention Oct. 21 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

"Well, he's a good guy and you know I wish him luck. I've been supporting Mead Treadwell. And you know, I'll put a good word in for either one of them as far as their participation to be the secretary," Young said.

Sullivan said he doesn't have a favorite in line for the post, but "I've been pushing, my priority is, an Alaskan."

Sullivan said he knows Gillam's son, Rob Gillam, well. Rob Gillam has been working with his father on his pursuit of the Interior Secretary position. The pair came to Washington, D.C., last week, and met with Sullivan before heading to New York City. Rob Gilliam said in a text Tuesday that the pair were still there, but did not elaborate about the status of meetings.

Sullivan said his meeting with Bob Gillam was fairly introductory, and that he met with Treadwell too. And as "somebody who worked for Governor Palin, I have a lot of respect for her too," Sullivan said.

"I think in all due respect, we'll see who's appointed," Young said. "The chance of Alaska getting a secretary are somewhat slim." The congressman said his real interest lies in the undersecretary positions that affect Alaska the most, in the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce.

"I'm supporting a couple people for different jobs under Department of Agriculture and of course the Department of Interior," Young said. And "if he's interested I'd support (former Alaska Gov.) Sean Parnell, if he'd be interested in going into one of those positions as an undersecretary."

"But we don't know what to push until we get the secretary," Young said. But no matter who Trump chooses, "if the secretary's got any brains, whoever it may be … they'll check with the delegation" about appointing their teams. "That's the way it usually works," he said.

"And we'll be putting names in, and hopefully they'll pick some of them."

Sarah Palin speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on July 1. (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's name has been floated since the transition began, but her chances of being nominated appear to be growing slimmer. She has not been to Trump Tower for a sit-down with the president-elect, and last week attacked his activities surrounding an Indiana manufacturing plant in an op-ed.

Palin's name was floated to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Young said that from what he has heard, the "veterans are not overly excited" about that option.

Sullivan, however, said he'd be interested in seeing Palin get the position.

Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses delegates at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention Oct. 21 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Sullivan said he's been in contact with the Trump transition team since the election, weighing in particularly on policy and personnel decisions related to the Interior Department and similar issues.

Young said Trump's Cabinet thus-far has been overly criticized for its massive combined wealth. "My argument is No. 1, they are successful people. Have they made money? Yes. But they have talent," Young said.

Sullivan agreed, and said he's happy to see a Cabinet that's so focused, as a group, on economic growth. "They're all focused on growth, growth, growth, growth, which is great, because Obama hasn't been at all," Sullivan said, adding that he hopes part of that will involve "rolling back the Obama administration (regulations), which I think are the hindrance on growth."

Young said he's working now on educating Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross on fisheries issues. He would have preferred that Trump choose retiring Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who has chaired the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, be chosen for the Department of Transportation, he said. "I would have done that because he knows the congressional process. He knows transportation probably as good as anyone else. But she's still a good candidate," he said of Trump's choice, Elaine Chao.

Trump said he is "very high on" Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia. "We talked a lot," he said. He said Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is a "good man." Young said he does not yet know much about Trump's nominees to head the Department of Education — Betsy DeVos — or the Defense Department, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.

Sullivan does know Mattis, a fellow Marine. The pair recently sat down for a long one-on-one meeting in California, where Sullivan was visiting his daughter at Stanford University, and Mattis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Mattis has "a really strong reputation, as a scholar, warrior, I think he'll be great," Sullivan said.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article misidentified Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. He is not Gov. Walker's Washington representative; that is Craig Fleener.

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