Monday saw a bit of dramatic theater on the House floor in the capitol building when a re-nomination to the Board of Fisheries went down in a squeaker. The vote against Vince Webster pitted big monied commercial fisherman against powerful sports fisherman, urban and rural politicians, and Gov. Sean Parnell against the chairman of one of the most powerful legislative committee.
The vote tally was 29 to 30.
Webster was first picked by former Gov. Sarah Palin to sit on the board in 2007. He lives in King Salmon and is a commercial fisherman and is said to favor that user group over sports fishermen.
On the floor on Monday, House Finance Chairman Rep. Bill Stoltze, who took the lead in the legislature to capsize the confirmation, said that Webster was a “very clever and effective spokesman” for the commercial fisheries and to that end, he “does things legally but not always right,” to help commercial fisherman.
He also mentioned Webster’s association with Palin. “He was Todd Palin’s guy,” Stoltze said. He hasn’t been “Alaska’s guy,” he said.
Parnell had spent at least some political capital fighting for Webster, though the governor himself appeared to be absent on the debate, as he has been for many debates on important issues. On the night before the vote, an email did emerge from the governor’s office urging support, but it was sent by Parnell’s chief of staff Mike Nizich instead of the governor himself, a small signal that likely ended up mattering.
It also likely didn’t help that the Nizich’s email appeared to be directed at claims against Webster brought by the politically active Kenai River Sportsman Association. Among other charges, KRSA said that Webster “directly participated in precariously and unnecessarily lowering the escapement goal of Kenai River king salmon during a time of record low abundance and uncertain future production.” He did this, the group said, to benefit commercial salmon setnetters at the expense of sports and personal use fish interests.
Nizich called such claims against Webster “misleading, “incomplete,” and “inaccurate.”
KRSA obviously represents sportsman’s interests, as does Stoltze, who has nearly every bill that Parnell has taken interest in in his committee.
In other words, this is not a good time to take on Stoltze. Counting votes, others obviously felt the same. But you wouldn’t know if you were an audience member watching the floor during the debate, where a handful of legislators spoke on Websters behalf, urging fellow members to disregard the attacks against Webster. Indeed, a group of college students from across the state, who were in the gallery, said that they were sure Webster would make it.
Only one other legislator, Rep. Les Gara, spoke against Webster.
At times during testimony in House Finance, the tension between Stoltze and Rep. Les Gara, who sits on that committee, has been knife cutting. They made nice today, however. We’ll see how long the love-fest lasts.
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