A Juneau Empire story published April 8 about Sen. Albert Kookesh's address at the Native Issues Forum contained some erroneous information about the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. This information was attributed to the senator, and I want to set the record straight on a few issues he mentioned.
Sen. Kookesh implied that the outcome of the Ethics Committee finding that he violated the Ethics Act may have been different had there been more Alaska Natives involved. He went on to say that "there was no rural people on the Ethics Committee, there were no Democrats on the Ethics Committee." He emphasized that this statement was based on fact and not criticism.
Here are the facts that the senator failed to research prior to unfairly criticizing the committee:
Sen. Kookesh was found guilty of implying that he would use his senatorial powers by withholding legislative action. He wrote in his letter of apology to the City of Craig and members of the media, "I understand and accept that I am fully responsible for the poor choice of words I used and the implication it created." The senator agreed that the findings of the committee were judicious by writing this letter; he could have chosen to not comply with the findings, wherein the issue would have gone to a full public hearing. Sen. Kookesh chose not to do that.
The unanimous findings of the committee also stated with regard to the apology letter that Sen. Kookesh must, " ... not debate whether he agrees with this finding nor how the public or media may have misconstrued his words." If the senator believes the committee's findings were incorrect, then perhaps this issue should be revisited by the Senate Subcommittee.
Members of the Ethics Committee are chosen by the State Supreme Court Chief Justice, who in turn refers them to the Legislature for confirmation of the Senate and House. Any Alaskan resident may apply. If a person is interested, they may submit a letter explaining their interest and a resume. Typically, very few people apply when there is a vacancy. This year, only one person applied for one vacancy. I am pleased that Toni Mallott, an Alaskan Native, applied and was confirmed this week. The committee is comprised of varied nationalities, and both males and females are members.
The committee has two registered Democrats as members.
Members of the committee reside across the state of Alaska including Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Kodiak, Soldotna and Nenana. I have to conclude that regardless of which definition one might use to define "rural," Nome and Kodiak certainly fit the designation.
The issue before the Committee was about comments made by Sen. Kookesh, and not about his race. If someone else had made the same comments, the analysis would have been the same, as race is not part of the analysis. The Legislative Ethics Act does not address race nor does it provide direction to issue a race-based decision. Race is unethical in this process and plays no role in the Committee's decision. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee, I am offended that the senator would think the committee based its decision on race.
It is disappointing that the senator feels he has been wronged by the committee. However, as related above, the "facts" as represented by Sen. Kookesh are not based on truth.
Gary J. Turner is the vice chair of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics and is chair of the Senate Ethics Subcommittee.