By Dave Donaldson
Former Eagle River representative Nancy Dahlstrom resigned Friday from her new job with the Parnell Administration. Parnell says he did not ask her to step down as his Senior Advisor for Military Affairs, but that her decision came after the Department of Law changed an opinion originally saying her newly created position was within the spirit of the state Constitution.
The issue of the opinion revolves around the Constitutional provision that prohibits a legislator from taking a position on which he or she might have voted – while a member of the legislature. Dahlstrom had resigned before the position was created. Attorney General Dan Sullivan originally advised that since there was no position until after the resignation, the prohibition did not affect Dahlstrom and was not a factor. But Parnell says a more recent review determined that a court might see it differently.
The creation of these positions has taken place for years – across the last fifty years governors have hired legislators for their expertise, for whatever ability the governor summoned their competence in. That longstanding practice has been called into question now by this new legal memorandum.
Parnell says he will not offer any future state job to legislators and that he will ask next year’s legislature – if he is re-elected – to define the limits of the constitutional ban.
Attorney General Sullivan says the second, more thorough, review found no similar situation in statute or case law in any other state or within the federal system. However, the state Supreme Court has ruled that the purpose of the Constitution’s “Ineligibility Clause” is to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” Sullivan said there is a risk that the court would not support his earlier opinion. He says throughout the entire process, the governor, his staff and former Representative Dahlstrom herself have followed the advice of the Department of Law.
We gave them the best advice we knew at the time. And we are now revising that advice. And I just want to mention that we take – the department of law and me as the attorney general – take full responsibility for that. Any mistakes that have been done throughout this process – sole mistakes that have been done through the Department of Law. And I apologize for that … well, I’ll just leave it at that.
Parnell last fall used the same historical precedent to hire former Senator Gene Therriault to work as his Senior Policy Advisor for In-State Gas. He says he has not asked Therriault to resign and expects him to stay on the job.
Dahlstrom’s resignation drew immediate responses from some opponents to Parnell’s reelection this year. And the subject is likely to become an issue during campaign appearances.
Democrat Ethan Berkowitz said in an e-mail that the governor was showing himself as “weak” and “incompetent.” He says the Constitution is very clear in the Ineligibility Clause and that Parnell should have realized that.
Republican Ralph Samuels said the governor had originally tried to hide the legal questions, and is now trying to present Attorney General Sullivan as – quote – “the fall guy.” He called on the governor to address more clearly the process around the hiring of former Senator Gene Therriault.