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Alaska governor’s candidate screening process under scrutiny

FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2019, file photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference in Juneau, Alaska. Dunleavy’s process for screening candidates for government work is under scrutiny after three people picked for prominent positions quit or declined roles. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

JUNEAU — Newly elected Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s process for screening candidates for government work is under scrutiny after three people picked for prominent positions quit or declined roles, two after offensive social media posts came to light and one after questions were raised about his work history.

Dunleavy's choice for Department of Administration commissioner — a Cabinet-level job — was accused of lying to lawmakers about his business experience.

A man picked for a policy role in that department, which provides administrative services to Alaska state agencies, posted lewd comments about Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris on Facebook, among other remarks.

And a University of Alaska Board of Regents nominee shared derogatory tweets about former first lady Michelle Obama and two Muslim congresswomen.

Some nominees picked to lead major departments or serve on boards have been "found wanting," Democratic state Sen. Donny Olson said.

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow defended the selection process for Dunleavy's team as "thorough, thoughtful and deliberate."

Applicants for boards and commissions can apply online, where they're asked for information such as training and education, potential conflicts of interest and criminal history within the past 10 years.

However, Shuckerow didn't respond to questions on who is handling vetting for Dunleavy, how the administration is vetting appointees for boards and Cabinet-level jobs and if social media feeds are taken into account. Shuckerow earlier said the administration doesn't generally discuss hiring practices and personnel matters.

Jonathan Quick resigned as Department of Administration commissioner after an owner of a Seattle-area coffee chain and frozen yogurt business said some claims Quick made about his role with the businesses were untrue.

During a confirmation hearing, Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski asked Quick when he sold an interest in the businesses and who his co-investors were. Quick said he believed it was 2014 and the other person was a private party.

After that and other aspects of his resume were disputed by one of the owners, Quick clarified that his ties to the businesses ended in 2012, and said he should have made clear he parted ways with them, rather than sold an ownership stake.

The sprawling department provides labor relations, leasing and other services to state agencies. Wielechowski said he asked Quick how he was appointed commissioner and that Quick told him he was affiliated with the state Republican party central committee and knew Tuckerman Babcock, the former party chair who is Dunleavy's chief of staff. Efforts to reach Quick for comment weren't immediately successful.

Quick resigned amid unfinished confirmation proceedings, saying he refuted some of the claims against him but did not want to be a distraction.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said legislators take seriously their vetting responsibility. Whether they agree with nominees politically is irrelevant, he said.

"What matters is whether they have the integrity to hold up the state's standing and to ensure that they are doing what's right for the public," he said.

Social media posts brought scrutiny to two others picked by Dunleavy or members of his administration.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tammy Randolph, a nominee to the University of Alaska Board of Regents, shared Twitter posts referring to Michelle Obama as a man and to Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan as a terrorist, and that attacked Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for wearing a hijab.

Another of Randolph's retweets criticized Gillette's recent ad invoking the #MeToo movement and suggested Maybelline do an ad that "lectures women about the importance of not making false rape accusations."

The University of Alaska system in 2017 agreed to resolve issues stemming from a federal review of its handling of campus sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.

Board of Regents Chair John Davies said he did not condone the posts and worried about how Randolph's appointment could reflect on the board.

Randolph told the News-Miner it didn't occur to her that her Twitter feed could be seen in association with a potential public role. She apologized for use of "rude and severe language" before withdrawing her nomination.

Shuckerow said Dunleavy "wholeheartedly" stood behind Randolph's appointment but also stood by her decision to withdraw.

Meanwhile, posts by Art Chance, who was in line for a Department of Administration policy job, included lewd Facebook comments about Harris and "leftist" women. He also described Puerto Rico as having an incompetent government and a population that was "sitting and waiting for the Great White Father to come take care of them" after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Chance wrote on Facebook on Jan. 22 that he had accepted a position in the department but provided no start date. Two days later, Shuckerow, Dunleavy's spokesman, said a review was being done "given the seriousness" of Chance's posts, and that Chance "declined to accept his offer of employment." Dunleavy, in a statement, said that was for the best. Initial questions about Chance were directed to the department but messages there went unreturned.

Neither Chance nor Randolph returned messages from The Associated Press.

Senate President Cathy Giessel said social media posts provide additional insight into a person. "Self-control is a significant quality," the Anchorage Republican recently told reporters.

Dunleavy isn't the first Alaska governor to face problems with appointees.

Lawmakers rejected one of former Gov. Sarah Palin's attorney general nominees, Wayne Anthony Ross, who among other things was criticized for refusing to disavow disparaging past remarks about gays. One of former Gov. Bill Walker's nominees to the Board of Fisheries, Roland Maw, withdrew shortly before facing legal issues surrounding hunting and fishing licenses in Montana and residency questions.

Another one-time Walker nominee has been on both sides of the social media divide.

In 2015, Walker pulled Jeff Landfield's nomination to the Commission on Judicial Conduct after a spokeswoman said the administration learned of "disrespectful images" on his Facebook page. Landfield said he told Walker's boards and commissions director about his "colorful social media presence," which included photos of him in a Speedo posing with bikini-clad women in Las Vegas.

More recently, Landfield, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate as a Republican and who operates the buzzy Alaska Landmine political blog, drew attention to posts on Chance and Randolph's feeds.

“I’m not saying these should be necessarily disqualifying,” he said of Randolph. “But I think the public deserves to know who’s going to be on these boards and commissions.”

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