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Walker names law partner as attorney general, makes 3 other appointments

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 25, 2014

Incoming governor Bill Walker continued to flesh out his cabinet on Tuesday, announcing new appointments as the clock ticked toward Monday's inauguration, including naming his law partner Craig Richards as attorney general.

Richards, 39, will replace Michael Geraghty, who became attorney general for outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell in 2012.

Richards has focused on issues including "natural gas project development, finance, taxation, and oil and gas leasing," said a statement from Walker's staff.

"I have worked alongside Craig Richards for more than a decade," Walker said. "I trust his judgment and admire his ability to quickly and thoroughly analyze complex legal issues. He will be a strong addition to my administration."

The law firm owned by Walker and Richards is being sold, said Grace Jang, spokeswoman for Walker.

Richards said in the statement he was honored by the appointment.

He said he "will begin reviewing Hamby v. Parnell as well as the National Guard investigation as soon as that information is made available to my office."

Richards, talking with a reporter late Tuesday, said "initial matters" he will look at in the National Guard scandal are the "appropriateness of the redactions made and the documents released."

Parnell's staff dragged its feet for months on addressing an opens-records request for information about the National Guard issue, and only released some records, many redacted, after Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media won a lawsuit against the state.

Will Richards be more prompt in responding to open-records requests from the media? "As attorney general I'll follow Alaska law as appropriate in terms of disclosure," he said.

In the Hamby case, Parnell had appealed a federal judge's ruling last month that Alaska's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

Walker said during the political campaign he personally viewed marriage as existing between a man and a woman, but added that if he were governor, he would "uphold the laws of the land."

"Despite my personal views on marriage, with the state's dire financial crisis, pursuing expensive litigation that has little chance of victory is an unwise use of our dwindling resources," Walker said.

Richards said that in that case and any other litigation awaiting his input, he will need to review case files and speak with managing attorneys deeply versed in the issues before he can decide what steps to take.

Also uncertain is whether Walker will drop his 2012 lawsuit against the state over the Point Thompson settlement with ExxonMobil.

Richards is Walker's attorney in that case. Richards said as attorney general he would remove himself from the action.

"Walker is reviewing his options, including getting outside legal opinion on the matter. (Walker) will make his decision after having the chance to review that" and talking with state attorneys, Richards said.

Critics have said a Walker victory in that case will stop the advancing project that is expected to add 10,000 barrels of condensate oil daily to the trans-Alaska pipeline in 2016.

Richards has said a victory will not delay the project but will ensure the Natural Resources department controls future development steps at the field, allowing for public input.

Also potentially facing Richards is a recent decision by a state Superior Court judge to invalidate a state requirement that local school districts help pay for education. The decision could cost the state more than $200 million annually.

Walker said during the campaign that he supported the lawsuit brought by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough but it was unfortunate the borough had reached that point.

"Until I have an opportunity to review files and discuss with attorneys in charge of the case, it wouldn't be appropriate to comment," Richards said.

Richards, in the statement released by Walker's staff, also said he looks forward to "utilizing my experience in finance, natural resource development, and taxation to support Governor Walker as the state gets to work on these and many other important issues."

Walker also announced:

• He retained Guy Bell as director of administrative services in the governor's office. "Bell's extensive experience with state finance began in 1982," the release said. Walker said he was "deeply impressed with Guy's extensive knowledge of the state's fiscal situation. He has been a tremendous asset to the state, and I'm confident he will continue to provide steadfastly reliable counsel as we tackle this budget deficit."

• He has named Pat Pitney as state budget director to replace Karen Rehfeld, Parnell's director of the Office of Management and Budget who retired as of Friday. Pitney has served as vice chancellor for administrative services at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and vice president of finance for the University of the Arctic, a network of universities and organizations across the eight Arctic nations, the release said. She worked 23 years in the University of Alaska system, and served as vice president for planning and budget. "I am thrilled that Pat will be joining the team," Walker said. "After Karen Rehfeld announced her retirement, we knew finding a replacement would be critical."

• He retained Gary Folger as Public Safety commissioner. Folger is Athabascan and a retired colonel who worked for more than 30 years with the Alaska State Troopers. He became Parnell's commissioner early this year. "I'm pleased Gary will continue to serve the state of Alaska as the public safety commissioner," Walker said. "His dedication to public service has been a great asset to the state."

Walker has asked for the resignation of some 250 officials within the Parnell administration, though a key member of Walker's transition team leading that effort has said many of those workers may be rehired.

The turnover is typical as an incoming governor replaces a previous governor's staff with his own appointees.

Walker, who narrowly beat Parnell in a race that took 10 days to call, has previously announced three other appointments to his cabinet. Mark Myers, former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, will serve as natural resources commissioner.

Randy Hoffbeck, a former state oil property tax assessor and chief financial officer of the North Slope Borough, will be revenue commissioner.

Also, Walker has named Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker as his chief of staff.