The Alaska Legislature approved Gov. Bill Walker’s picks for his cabinet in a Tuesday joint session of the House and Senate, but it balked at the appointment of a former Planned Parenthood employee to the board governing Alaska’s midwives.
The nomination of Palmer’s Kenni Linden to the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives was defeated 28-32, largely along majority/minority caucus lines. Thirty-one votes are needed to confirm gubernatorial appointees.
Linden was the only person among the 98 people nominated by Walker who was not confirmed to the state’s various boards and commissions. (One nominee selected by legislators was also confirmed.)
A former field organizer for Planned Parenthood, Linden left that organization in 2016. She was nevertheless opposed by the anti-abortion group Alaska Right to Life, which urged Alaskans to draft letters and emails to their legislators in opposition to a “Planned Parenthood activist.”
“I just don’t think (she’s) a good fit for this board,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, objecting to Linden’s nomination. After the vote, Wilson said she was referring to Linden’s role with Planned Parenthood when she voiced her objection.
Wilson was joined in opposition by the other members of the House’s Republican minority and by Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage.
Grenn said after the vote that he likewise had concerns that Linden’s experience might not make her the best fit for the board’s public seat.
From the Senate, Linden’s nomination was opposed by most of the 13-member Senate Majority. Also opposed was Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and the two independent Republicans in the chamber. In her favor were four members of the Senate Democratic Minority and three members of the Senate Majority.
Linden told the Associated Press before the vote that she was interested in the board because of her own experience having a children with a midwife. That midwife encouraged her to apply for the seat.
She confirmed that story to the Empire when reached Tuesday afternoon in Palmer, and said she is six months pregnant with her second child and again is receiving midwife care.
“Ultimately, I’m a midwifery client,” she said.
“I am pretty disappointed in the vote today, especially since those legislators who voted against my confirmation didn’t take the time to reach out to me.”
She added that she is disappointed that midwifery is becoming politicized, and she thanked Gov. Bill Walker and the other members of the board.
Most other gubernatorial appointees encountered only token opposition.
A notable exception was Teresa Sager-Albaugh to the Alaska Board of Game. Former president of the Alaska Outdoors Council, Sager-Albaugh was appointed to the board in 2009 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin and faced re-confirmation this year.
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said two members of the public contacted him and said she has been insensitive to the requests of subsistence hunters. He added that he had concerns about her ability to regulate “non-consumptive” issues, such as tourism.
Josephson has previously opposed Sager-Albaugh’s confirmation and was president of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in 2009 when it published a full-page ad in the Juneau Empire that urged her rejection.
Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, responded to Josephson’s comments Tuesday, pointing out that Sager-Albaugh is herself a subsistence hunter.
Sager-Albaugh has been a frequent target of conservation groups and was confirmed 44-16 this year.
Of Walker’s cabinet officials, commerce commissioner Mike Navarre was confirmed in a 49-11 vote. Opposition came from legislators who feel he too strongly favors income taxes.
Lawmakers approved the confirmation of revenue commissioner Sheldon Fisher 50-10. Opposition to his confirmation came principally from lawmakers who said he overly favors the oil and gas industry.
Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, was among the 10 “no” votes and said he was displeased with Fisher’s performance as commissioner of the Department of Administration. Fisher served in that role before Walker named him revenue commissioner in September.
“As commissioner of Administration, Fisher advanced disruptive policies which have not yielded the promised results. I commend anyone willing to enter public service but Alaskans deserve results,” Parish said by text message.
He subsequently offered the state’s IT consolidation and Shared Services programs as examples of Fisher’s policies.
Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, joined Parish in voting “no” on Fisher’s nomination, and Kito was the lone negative vote on the nomination of Leslie Ridle to replace Fisher as head of the Department of Administration.
“I think my experiences with her have not led me to think she has the knowledge or experience to handle the full department,” he said, citing correspondence between the department and his office.
By phone, Ridle said she was surprised by that comment, given that she and Kito have been friends for 25 years.
Ridle, who was raised in Douglas, said she was happy with the day’s vote and thanked the lawmakers who did vote for her.
“I feel really privileged and thrilled that 59 people in the Legislature thought I have the experience to do the job,” she said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.