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Walker cabinet features at least 9 new commissioners

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 2, 2014

Turnover at the top of Alaska state agencies is standard practice following the election of a new governor. That's taking place with Gov. Bill Walker, who says he wants at least nine new commissioners out of 14.

In decisions announced before and after he took office Monday, Walker replaced the leaders of administration, commerce, corrections, labor, health, fish and game, law, natural resources and revenue.

The only Parnell-era commissioner he has chosen so far to stay is Gary Folger, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. There may be up to four others, but so far the leaders of environmental conservation, education, military and transportation remain in an "acting" capacity.

All told, the Walker cabinet as of Tuesday includes nine acting commissioners whose job status will be reviewed as the administration takes shape, as well as one holdover commissioner and four people designated as commissioners.

Under the Alaska Constitution, state commissioners are subject to legislative confirmation, a vote that usually takes place late in the first session for purposes of political leverage.

Five of the nine temporary agency leaders worked as deputy commissioners or division directors during the last administration. Whether they are in line to be full-fledged commissioners is not yet known.

The future status of Parnell's commissioners for education, military, environmental conservation and transportation is also not clear. The education commissioner under Parnell, Mike Hanley, and the environmental conservation commissioner under Parnell, Larry Hartig, continue on an acting basis under Walker. So does Patrick Kemp, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities commissioner, and Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Hartig, who was named DEC chief by former Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007, has the longest tenure of any current state commissioner.

Walker said the crush of getting a new administration in place was the first challenge and he believed they had reached a milestone on the first day.

"There's a lot to do in a very short period of time to get to where we are at this moment," Walker told reporters Monday afternoon. "I feel like we have stepped across into the end zone, and it feels pretty doggone good to be there."

Here is a summary of the Walker cabinet to date:

Administration

Acting Commissioner Amy Erickson has been director of the Division of Motor Vehicles for nearly two years.

She is a former administrative director for Sen. Lisa Murkowski and is a former legislative aide. She replaces Curtis Thayer.

Commerce

Acting Commissioner Fred Paraday has been deputy commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

He is a former executive director of the Alaska Miners Association and has also served as the chief operating officer for the North Slope Borough School District. He worked in the mining industry in Wyoming for nearly three decades. He replaces Susan Bell.

Corrections

Acting Commissioner Ron Taylor has served as a deputy commissioner since 2012 and is a former division director. He led the board of parole from 2008-2011.

He began as a probation officer in 1990 with the Department of Health and Social Services. He replaces Joe Schmidt.

Education

Acting Commissioner Mike Hanley, who has served as commissioner for almost four years, worked as a teacher and principal in Anchorage for many years before that. The commissioner is appointed by the state Board of Education and Early Development with the approval of the governor.

Environmental Conservation

Acting Commissioner Larry Hartig is an attorney who was in private practice for many years before Palin named him chief of DEC in 2007.

Fish and Game

Interim Commissioner Sam Cotten served 16 years in the state Legislature and two terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Cotten was speaker of the House in 1989-90 and chaired the resources committee, among others.

The boards of fish and game nominate applicants to be commissioner and the governor, who can request more nominations, makes a selection. He replaces Cora Campbell.

Health

Valerie Davidson, who most recently served as senior director in legal and government work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, has been designated as commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services.

Walker said that Davidson is an authority on issues related to Medicaid and Medicare and he said her appointment Monday was a first step toward expanding Medicaid coverage to about 40,000 Alaskans. She replaces William Streur.

Labor

Acting Commissioner Grey Mitchell, deputy commissioner since May 15, is a former assistant commissioner and a 25-year veteran of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

He served as director of the Division of Labor Standards for a decade. He replaces Diane Blumer.

Attorney general

Craig Richards, a former law partner of Walker's, replaces Attorney General Michael Geraghty.

The attorney general designee grew up in Fairbanks and has a law degree from Washington and Lee University, a master's degree in business administration from Duke University and a finance degree from the University of Virginia.

Military

Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges remains as acting adjutant general of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Natural Resources

Mark Myers, former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, is to become commissioner in January. Myers is vice chancellor for research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a former head of the state oil and gas division. He replaces Joe Balash.

Until Myers joins the state, Marty Rutherford will serve as acting commissioner. Rutherford, a deputy commissioner in the department during the Palin administration, has held various positions in the agency. She leaves a post as special projects manager in Anchorage for Linc Energy to rejoin the department as a deputy commissioner.

Public Safety

Commissioner Gary Folger, a retired colonel in the Alaska State Troopers, remains as the state's top public safety official.

Parnell named him to lead the department in January. Folger began as a fish and wildlife aide in Cantwell in 1979 and served across the state as an Alaska state trooper for more than 30 years.

Revenue

Randy Hoffbeck, former state oil property tax assessor and chief financial officer for the North Slope Borough, is to return in January from a mission trip to Kenya to become commissioner. He replaces Angela Rodell.

Until Hoffbeck returns from Africa next month, former Deputy Commissioner Marcia Davis is to lead the department. Davis is a former general counsel of Calista Corp. She is to serve as deputy chief of staff in the governor's office after filling in for Hoffbeck.

Transportation

Acting Commissioner Patrick Kemp worked for the highway and transportation departments from 1971 until he retired in 2006. He was named commissioner in December 2012.

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