Bethany Marcum, executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, responds to questions from the Senate Education Committee on March 14 about her nomination to the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents. Her organization’s conservative policies, including backing a budget by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that proposed a 40% cut to the university system, made her one of the most controversial nominees who will be considered during a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Bethany Marcum, executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, responds to questions from the Senate Education Committee on March 14 about her nomination to the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents. Her organization’s conservative policies, including backing a budget by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that proposed a 40% cut to the university system, made her one of the most controversial nominees who will be considered during a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lawmakers raise questions ahead of joint Legislative confirmation session

UA Regents nominee among those expected to face opposition in Tuesday’s votes.

Many will be called, but few will be chosen for scrutiny when dozens of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s nominees to fill state posts, including commissioners of several departments, are considered by a joint session of the Alaska Legislature scheduled Tuesday morning.

One name in particular likely to stand out is Bethany Marcum, one of four nominees for the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents. She encountered skepticism during committee hearings since, as executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, she expressed support for Dunleavy’s budget than in 2019 cut the university’s budget by 40%. She was a member of a state redistricting board, which a judge ruled last year attempted illegal gerrymandering in secret that violated open meetings laws.

State Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Monday she will vote against Marcum’s confirmation and there are questions about several other nominees — as well as a wider concern about the makeup of Dunleavy’s selections she encountered as a member of four committees conducting hearings.

“Many of the folks that have been up for selection this year do not express the diversity and breadth of Alaska,” Tobin said. “Most of them that we have gone through hearings for are from Wasilla. A majority of them are white. A majority of them have not had experience with the diverse populations that are impacted by the departments or systems they have purview over.”

State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat and another member of the Senate’s bipartisan majority, said Monday he will also vote against Marcum.

Tobin expressed her concerns about the lack of diversity in university regents nominees in a letter to Dunleavy. Inquires to his office Monday about her letter and remarks did notimmediately receive a response.

Among the other names legislators said are expected to receive opposition — if not necessarily enough to deny confirmation — is Adam Crum as commissioner of the Department of Revenue. He was the commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services during the period leading up to a crisis resulting in a months-long backlog of food stamp applications as well as other public assistance programs.

Crum’s brother, Joey is among the other nominees for the university’s board of regents. He is the CEO of Northern Industrial Training, a Palmer-based private vocational school, a point of concern for some legislators.

A nominee named as potentially controversial at the start of the session is Brett Huber Sr., appointed as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Huber was the primary target in a complaint by two watchdog groups alleging improper coordination between Dunleavy’s 2022 campaign and a PAC supporting the campaign, which he and others accused have denied.

Another name to watch is John Morris, a nominee for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees, who resigned as Anchorage homeless coordinator in 2021 at a time when multiple officials involved with the issue for the city either quit or were fired.

Nominees must receive 31 votes in the 60-member Legislature to be confirmed.

In the 40-member House there there are 23 members in the Republican-led majority, 16 members of the mostly Democratic minority and one unaffiliated conservative Republican. The Senate is dominated by a 17-member bipartisan majority consisting of nine Democrats and eight Republicans, with three conservative Republicans in the minority.

As a result, there are multiple alignments that could occur if there are close votes on nominees. Among them:

– If the House majority and lone unaffiliated Republican join with the three minority Senate members, they would need four members of the Senate majority to reach 31.

— The Senate majority and House minority have enough votes combined to deny a nominee with three votes to spare.

— The House majority includes the four Democratic and independent members of the Bush Caucus, whose districts span remote areas of the states, with some of them casting votes against portions of the budget eventually passed by the House. If they have similar concerns about specific nominees it could affect close votes.

Two departments are still headed by acting commissioners without permanent nominees. Former Juneau state representative and Assembly member Cathy Muñoz was named the acting commissioner of the Department of Labor in January. Also, Heidi Teshner remains the acting commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development after Susan McKenzie withdrew her name from consideration in mid March.

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for Dunleavy, stated in an email Monday “the governor’s office will make an announcement as soon as commissioner-designees are selected for those two departments.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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