Members of the state House and Senate look at a tally board showing the failure of Bob Griffin to be confirmed to the Alaska state school board on Tuesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Members of the state House and Senate look at a tally board showing the failure of Bob Griffin to be confirmed to the Alaska state school board on Tuesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska Legislature rejects Dunleavy-nominated state school board member

Two other nominees for boards and commissions fail to gain approval as lawmakers approve 78 of 81.

The Alaska Legislature voted Tuesday to remove Bob Griffin from the state school board amid bipartisan unhappiness over his actions as a board member.

The vote came amid the Legislature’s annual vote on gubernatorial nominees. Legislators approved 78 of the 81 people subject to legislative confirmation during a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday.

They rejected Griffin for a second term on the board, radio host Mike Porcaro as a new appointee to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, and businessperson Mark Sayampanathan for the Workers’ Compensation Board.

By a 56-4 vote, legislators confirmed Adjutant General Torrence Saxe as No. 3 in the state’s line of succession. A 57-3 vote confirmed Cathy Muñoz as commissioner of the state Department of Labor, and unanimous 60-0 votes confirmed Terrence Haas as the state’s top public defender and Emma Pokon as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Griffin, appointed to the school board in 2019, was reappointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to a second five-year term, but Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage and co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, spoke against his nomination on Tuesday.

Tobin accused Griffin of violating the Executive Branch Ethics Act by appearing at a charter school board meeting in his official capacity without permission, and during his confirmation hearing, Griffin said he had been advocating at that meeting for the use of public funds at private schools, something banned by the Alaska Constitution.

Dunleavy’s administration is arguing in a court case that the practice complies with the constitution.

Tobin said the Alaska Reads Act, a law proposed in part by Dunleavy, requires an annual convention of state educators to discuss the law’s implementation. Griffin is supposed to be in charge of that meeting, Tobin said, and it hasn’t happened.

“The Legislature is obligated to ensure that the public funds for education are being appropriately used,” Tobin said. “Over the past five years, clearly, Mr. Griffin has abrogated that responsibility.”

Tobin and several other legislators criticized Griffin’s decision to lobby legislators into sustaining Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of Senate Bill 140, a multipart education measure that included a permanent increase to the state’s K-12 public school funding formula.

“I was deeply concerned by Mr. Griffin’s opposition to local control and his efforts to get legislators to uphold the governor’s veto of SB 140,” said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, in a newsletter emailed to constituents afterward.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, said legislators should keep Griffin on the board in order to ensure a “balanced board” that includes “opposing views,” and Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, suggested that votes against Griffin were “efforts to retaliate against Mr. Griffin” in part because he was successful with his lobbying on the governor’s side.

Griffin needed 31 of the Legislature’s 60 members to approve his renomination to the state school board, but he got only 21 votes, all from Republican lawmakers.

Speaking after the vote to Must Read Alaska, a website favored by Alaska Republicans, Griffin sounded defiant, saying in part, “I was a fighter pilot for 22 (years) and have had my a– chewed by better people than those (legislators).”

A vote on a second school board member, Barbara Tyndall of Fairbanks, was close but ultimately successful, with 34 votes in favor and 26 against. Some legislators suggested that Tyndall’s education experience, which is limited to religious schools, wasn’t enough for a seat on the school board.

The vote on Porcaro, a radio host who once delivered red pens to the state Capitol as part of a publicity stunt supporting Dunleavy budget vetoes, changed during the course of the hourslong joint legislative session.

Lawmakers initially voted 31-29 to support his nomination to a state commission that oversees commercial fisheries, but as one of the final acts of the day, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, called for a revote.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, shifted against Porcaro, while Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, changed to be in favor. That left Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, to be the swing vote, as he switched from “yes” to “no,” causing Porcaro’s nomination to fail by a single vote.

Stutes and other lawmakers criticized Porcaro’s lack of commercial fishing experience as a reason to vote against his confirmation.

The Legislature’s vote against Sayampanathan was mostly unexpected by state lawmakers, who appeared puzzled after McCabe rose to speak against his confirmation.

Speaking on the floor, McCabe said he had only been informed that morning about claims that Sayampanathan was taking credit for legislation McCabe introduced.

The legislation, House Bill 255, would create a joint port authority for the Port of Alaska in Anchorage and Point MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. It has not advanced.

Other legislators criticized Sayampanathan for using profane language in emails to the Anchorage Assembly, and his nomination failed on a 16-44 vote.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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