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Politics

Senate majority to hire official ousted amid National Guard scrutiny

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 6, 2015

The Alaska Senate majority plans to hire a former high level state official who was forced out of the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell in the Alaska National Guard scandal.

McHugh Pierre, the former deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, has verbally accepted an offer of a contract with the Senate's majority caucus for the 2015 session and will assist with communications, said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

Parnell asked for Pierre's resignation last fall several weeks after the release of a federal investigation into the guard that revealed a culture in which sexual harassment and assaults, misuse of guard resources and fraud persisted for years.

Pierre was a civilian employee in the military and veterans affairs department led by Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus. Katkus, the guard commander, resigned the same day the report was released.

Documents obtained by Alaska Dispatch News showed that Pierre intervened in an inquiry into sexual assault allegations against a married guard recruiter. The recruiter was recommended for separation from the guard through an "other than honorable discharge," though it's unclear whether that recommendation was followed. The recruiter was never charged with a crime.

In a phone interview, Pierre acknowledged intervening in cases against two soldiers who were being recommended for removal from the guard. But he said he did so because the charges against them were not substantiated.

"The thing that I said was, 'We cannot afford to lose any of these cases,'" Pierre said. "If people are accused of doing bad things and they get off on technicalities, then we will lose the battle of making sure people don't do bad things. So don't bring forward any charges that are not going to stick."

Pierre said he had been planning to leave Parnell's administration after the election, regardless of the outcome. He added that Parnell's request for his resignation had nothing to do with Pierre's job performance.

"It was time. The governor wanted other people in there to serve," he said. "A lot of people want to make stuff up and spread rumors, and I don't know why. It's really easy for me to share with you the truth, because I didn't do anything wrong."

In a phone interview, Meyer said he was unfamiliar with a news report detailing Pierre's involvement in the Alaska National Guard inquiry.

"There's just been so much published and written about the whole incident there," Meyer said.

He described the documents referring to Pierre's role as hearsay.

"He tells us he's innocent -- we have no reason to presume he isn't innocent," Meyer said. "And he offers skills and talents that I think, right now, we need."

Pierre's contract was first reported by Alaska Public Media.

Before his appointment as deputy commissioner, Pierre served as a communications director for then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. Pierre also has worked as a television reporter and a spokesman for the Alaska Republican Party.

Meyer said Pierre would be filling the job of an employee who left the Senate majority's press office. The contract, Meyer said, has not been finalized, but he added the term would be four months or less and won't exceed $35,000.

Meyer said "several" people were interviewed for the job, which was not publicly advertised. He said he consulted with at least "a majority" of his caucus, which consists of 14 Republicans and one Democrat.

Outgoing Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said he was not approached for advice on Pierre's hiring. Dyson was involved in early discussions with guard whistle-blowers -- a pair of chaplains -- and has said he pressed Parnell repeatedly to respond to their concerns.

"It was a consistent position of guard leadership that the chaplains were out of line and off the reservation. I don't know what part McHugh played in that," Dyson said. "Be that as it may, McHugh is a very bright and attractive and talented guy -- and whatever his sins of the past, I really hope that he has more opportunities to use his talents."

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