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Alaska Legislature

Legislature votes on Dunleavy appointees today as uncertainty surrounds 3 cabinet officials

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak (left) speaks to Frances Leach, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Stutes is among the lawmakers opposing the appointment of Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. (James Brooks / ADN)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Find the most recent updates here.

JUNEAU — The next major test of legislative support for Gov. Mike Dunleavy arrives at 1 p.m. today when members of the Alaska Legislature meet in joint session to vote on the new governor’s picks for his cabinet and for the state’s multifarious boards and commissions.

Lawmakers typically defer to the governor when it comes to cabinet officials — there is a widespread belief that the governor should be allowed to pick his own team — but three of the governor’s picks this year are drawing significant opposition: Amanda Price for the Department of Public Safety, Jason Brune for the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adam Crum for the Department of Health and Social Services.

“Every joint session, there’s always at least a couple candidates who seem to engender a lot of controversy, and this year’s no exception,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said Tuesday.

The selection of Karl Johnstone for the Alaska Board of Fisheries and Vivian Stiver for the Alaska Marijuana Control Board have also drawn opposition.

Brune, a former mining executive with ties to Pebble, is being opposed by critics of that project who say he is too friendly to the mining industry.

"This is not a process that we can have confidence in, and putting Brune at the helm here in Alaska will make it impossible for Alaskans to trust that fair, science-based and honest decisions will be made in permitting for Pebble,” Lindsey Bloom of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said in a prepared statement.

Crum is supervising extensive changes to the state’s Medicaid program and the privatization of the state’s only public psychiatric hospital, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

For Price, questions have been raised about her qualifications, experience and background as an adviser to former Gov. Bill Walker.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said he doesn’t have “any predetermined notions on who I’m going to support or not,” but “people are trying to lobby me on various folks.”

Fisheries groups have been particularly active in the Capitol this week as the United Fishermen of Alaska and other commercial fishing groups are opposing the appointment of Johnstone, who formerly served on the board and previously was a state judge.

Frances Leach, executive director of UFA, said Johnstone has “proved himself to have a complete disdain toward the commercial fishing sector” and favors sportfishing interests.

As she’s gone door to door in the Capitol, she said, “A lot of people want to support the governor and his appointees, and that’s what we’re hearing."

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