Law dictates that those appointed to boards and commissions must be Alaska residents. However, Gov. Sean Parnell will not budge on a board appointment that appears to violate the law. In an email, Sharon Leighhow, the governor’s spokesperson, said that Parnell will not pull the name of California resident and former oil executive Dennis Mandell from the State Assessment Review Board, the board that assesses the trans-Alaska gas pipeline for tax purposes.
Leighhow said that Parnell also won’t pull another non-resident appointment to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. Richard Rabinow, appointed to AGDC’s board by Parnell in September, lives in Houston, Texas, not, as statue would dictate, in Alaska.
Leighhow said that the Alaska state Constitution only says that a board member must be a U.S. resident. However, a state statue provides further guidance. It says that board members must be Alaska voters.
Senate Democrats have called for the removal of Mandell. Sen. Hollis French said that the law is clear. In a press conference on Tuesday, Sen. John Coghill, the Majority Leader, said that French appears to make a “good point.”
The Legislature must confirm both nominees.
AGDC board member Rabinow is president of a pipeline consulting firm. He was with ExxonMobil for 34 years, including as the president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. He is a former chairman of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines and the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) Owners Committee.
AGDC is charged with preparing the state to build a bullet line that would carry gas from the North Slope to SouthCentral Alaska. It’s a fallback agency of sorts, in the very real case that a big line doesn’t get built. A subsidiary of the corporation would also be in charge of the state’s equity interest in the big line, if it does ever get built.
Parnell, not AGDC, chose the board’s makeup. However, AGDC president Dan Fauske said that Rabinow is “extremely well qualified” and has been an asset to the board, which has met about four times.
Rabinow’s appointment is much less controversial than Mandell’s, who was appointed after another member of the SAR board, Marty McGee, was fired. McGee fought for a higher pipeline assessment, thereby costing the oil companies millions of dollars in taxes to localities they wouldn’t have otherwise paid. The assessment was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court. It’s unclear why Parnell fired him.
It’s puzzling why Parnell has chosen to dig in on this particular fight at this particular time. He is a former ConocoPhillips lobbyist, and his ties with industry have always been suspect. However, many voters have put those suspicions aside, believing that he’s doing what’s best for the state. This, however, could make some question those ties, particularly at a time when the public is trying to decide if they trust him and the oil industry enough to keep a major tax break in place that he championed.
Democrat Rep. Les Gara pointed out that if Parnell just chose to stick by the constitution, there would be no troopers, job training, or university financial aid, to name a few. He says that that Parnell took an oath to uphold the constitution and Alaska laws. “He doesn’t get to pick and choose the statutes he violates,” Gara said.
What happens next? French said that he expects to get more legal opinions on the matter. “And then we vote,” he said.
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UPDATED: The story has been updated to reflect Leighhow’s comment about Richard Rabinow.