JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A divided Alaska Legislature on Wednesday confirmed Amanda Price to lead the Department of Public Safety as she fended off allegations of absenteeism in a prior job.
Supporters of Price cast her as fiery and outspoken and the victim of a “witch hunt.” Critics cited concern with what they said were inconsistencies in some of Price’s comments and questioned her integrity.
Price was confirmed on a 34-25 vote in a joint session of the Legislature. All of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s other Cabinet-level picks also were confirmed, some unanimously. Receiving similarly split votes were Jason Brune as Environmental Conservation commissioner and Adam Crum as Health and Social Services commissioner. At least 31 votes are needed to win confirmation.
Dunleavy, in a statement, said he saw the votes as recognition that he deserves the chance to assemble his own team.
Price said she was honored to win confirmation and hopes to connect with lawmakers in the coming days to start making plans on working together to improve public safety and strengthen the department.
Price and Dunleavy’s administration made a push in support of her nomination to try to dispel allegations she had been chronically absent from a policy job in former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. The allegations were raised by a former supervisor, while two other former supervisors said she was not “disciplined or counseled” for absenteeism during their tenure.
Matt Shuckerow, a Dunleavy spokesman, said the administration ran social media ads in support of Price, and Price held a news conference Tuesday in an effort to move past what she said had become a distraction.
The chronic absenteeism allegations were raised by Scott Kendall, who was Walker’s chief of staff near the end of Price’s tenure. He has said he gave her the choice to resign or be fired. But Kendall said he didn’t want to get into a substantive discussion with her on why because he thought it would be painful for her to hear and didn’t think it would be productive.
Jim Whitaker, Walker chief of staff before Kendall, and Marcia Davis, a former Walker deputy chief of staff, defended Price. In a letter, they said during their tenure Price was not “disciplined or counseled for absenteeism, or plagiarism as none of these acts occurred.” Kendall has said allegations of plagiarism were relayed to him. Price has denied plagiarizing anything.
Price said Tuesday the state paid for members of her leadership team - who praised her drive and approach to the job - to come to Juneau to take questions.
On Wednesday, Rep. Zack Fields accused Price of providing shifting testimony during confirmation hearings and not being as forthcoming or clear as she could have been. The Anchorage Democrat said integrity is a must for the job.
Rep. Laddie Shaw said he asked Price things an aspiring trooper would be asked. “And I have to say, the answers I got did not paint a picture of what I would think of as an ideal candidate.”
But Shaw, an Anchorage Republican and a former director of the Alaska Police Standards Council, said the job deals with leadership and management. Shaw said people in the department he’s known for years supported her and said she was a hard worker. He said if the men and women of the department stand behind her, “then I do, too.”
Sen. Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, cast Price as a victim of a “witch hunt.” Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, said she asked people making accusations to provide proof, “and I got nothing.”
As for other nominations that got attention, the Legislature rejected the appointment of Vivian Stiver to the board that regulates Alaska’s legal marijuana industry. The vote was 30-29. Stiver was involved in a failed 2017 effort to ban marijuana operations in Fairbanks.
Members of the industry sought to cast Stiver as a prohibitionist. But supporters said she’d bring a fresh perspective and fairly hear issues before the board.
Dunleavy’s other pick to the board, Lt. Christopher Jaime, was confirmed without debate. Jaime, an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, was appointed to the board’s public safety seat.
John Francis, nominated to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, faced intense questioning from one senator during a confirmation hearing over his ghost-hunting activities. His nomination was expected to come up later Wednesday.
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