The Alaska Senate's leadership has reversed itself and decided to not give a job to McHugh Pierre, the former deputy commissioner fired by then-Gov. Sean Parnell in the aftermath of a scathing Pentagon report on leadership, reprisals and sexual misconduct in the Alaska National Guard.
Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, president of the Republican-led Senate majority, said Tuesday he didn't want questions about Pierre's hiring as a spokesman to interfere with the majority's ability to communicate with the public as the Legislature confronts a huge budget deficit.
"The issues we have coming before us, in my opinion, are so critical that we don't want any distractions," Meyer said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Keeping McHugh there would have just kept the issue out there."
Meyer said last week that he planned to give Pierre a contract for the length of the legislative session, capped at $35,000, to help the Senate majority communicate its priorities.
But that announcement generated an uproar among some current and former guard members who considered Pierre to have been one of the problems in his role as the top civilian official in the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.
The proposed hiring of Pierre by Meyer was never finalized. Meyer said Tuesday that the position would go unfillled for the duration of the 90-day session.
"I do see a real need for such a person, especially this year, but we are making budget reductions," Meyer said. "So this will be a person we'll just do without."
The original decision to hire Pierre exposed some of the close relationships between the Legislature and the executive branch. Pierre's wife, Laura Pierre, is chief of staff for Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, while Meyer's wife, Marty, is a special assistant in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and worked with Pierre and his former boss, Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus.
After Parnell fired him, Pierre went to work for the Alaska Aerospace Corp., where his father-in-law, John Cramer, is vice president and chief administrative officer.
In a phone interview, Pierre said Meyer's decision was "his prerogative" and added that he'd continue running his consulting firm, Quantum Communications.
"I support the Senate majority," Pierre said. "I don't want to be a distraction, so if that's how they feel, that's OK."
Meyer added that the Senate still plans to hold hearings on the guard scandal and that they'd take place in the State Affairs Committee, which will be chaired by freshman Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who previously served in the state House.
"What he wants to do is just look at the process -- how much authority does the governor really have? And how much is under his control, versus the federal government?" Meyer said. "It's a very complicated issue, and the more I try to explain it, I think, the more I realize how complex it is."
Another Republican, Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said in October that she planned to hold hearings and would call for a special investigator to look into the guard.
McGuire will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee in the upcoming session. Reached by phone Tuesday and asked about the decision to hold hearings on the guard in Stoltze's committee, McGuire said, "That's not good." But she added she was on vacation and ended the conversation.
In a follow-up text message, McGuire said: "I will be holding hearings in my committee."
"It's important I hold them," she added. "Otherwise they will be a sham."
Meyer said the State Affairs Committee is a "more appropriate place" than the Judiciary Committee for hearings because the guard "falls under state affairs."
Stoltze, in a candidate survey filed with Alaska Dispatch News last fall, said he supports a special investigator to address problems of leadership, morale and accountability in the guard.
Gov. Bill Walker announced last week that the attorney general is in the process of selecting a special investigator from among five attorney candidates.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing