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House speaker, governor voice displeasure with rejection of commissioner candidate

JUNEAU -- Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault and Gov. Bill Walker said Friday they were unhappy with a state Board of Fisheries decision to dismiss one of the candidates to lead the Department of Fish and Game before he'd been interviewed.

The Fish Board, in concert with the state Game Board, on Wednesday rejected three of four candidates who applied to be Fish and Game commissioner -- all except for Sam Cotten, who Walker named as a temporary commissioner when he was sworn into the governor's office in December.

One of the rejected candidates was Roland Maw, a Kenai Peninsula resident and director of a fishing industry group whose resume said he has a doctorate in forestry and wildlife management. While the Game Board voted to interview Maw, who paid for his own trip to appear in-person at a Juneau meeting, the Fish Board unanimously voted against him without discussion, and afterward, chair Karl Johnstone declined to explain why.

Maw has a contentious relationship with the Fish Board and state regulators. The group he leads, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, is a participant in a lawsuit challenging a decision to give the state, rather than the federal government, control of salmon management in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and near the Alaska Peninsula.

Chenault, a Republican from Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula, sent a strongly worded letter to Walker on Friday saying the Fish Board's vote was "unconscionable and appeared as if it were a setup." In the letter, Chenault suggested the governor consider replacing the board with "members who show a respect for the public."

None of the seven members of the Fish Board was appointed by Walker, and several board members were approved by Chenault -- though he did vote against Johnstone's appointment in 2009.

Chenault's chief of staff, Tom Wright, also used to be the president of the fishing group that Maw now leads.

In an emailed statement from a spokeswoman, Walker responded to Chenault's letter by saying he had no communication with the fish or game boards before their decisions. But he said he would stress that in the future, the Fish Board should hold a "public and open process."

"I contacted Dr. Maw as soon as I was notified that the boards had sent only one name," the statement quoted Walker as saying. "I share Speaker Chenault's disappointment that Dr. Maw did not even get an interview."

Johnstone, reached by phone Friday, declined to comment.

Walker's statement said he thought Cotten would make an excellent commissioner. According to The Associated Press, Walker will speak to the fish and game boards before deciding to ask them for more candidates from which to choose.

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