Friday, February 26, 2010

Dan Sullivan House Judiciary Confirmation Hearing

Itʻs hard to be purely a reporter (in the literal sense) and not to add shading on the confirmation hearing for Dan Sullivan. In fact, simply presenting the cold facts would hardly convey the very warm reception Sullivan received. Committee Chair Jay Ramras did everything but blow kisses at the nominee and his in-laws (former Fairbanks Rep. Hugh ʻBudʻ Fate and former UA Regent Mary Jane Fate) who were in attendance.  He constantly called him "General" instead of "Attorney General."*  He looked at him like a kid staring at his new puppy. [If you question my interpretation, you can listen to the hearing yourself on Gavel to Gavel. NOTE: old hearings tend to disappear and this link is no longer good.]

And Sullivanʻs resume is very impressive - Harvard undergrad, George Washington law school, Marines, White House Fellow, Assistant Secretary of State ...

He presents his strong qualifications on this first video clip.

In his opening remarks Sullivan outlined four key areas of focus:

  1. Protecting Alaskans first, in the criminal side, and he cited Gov. Parnellʻs sexual assault initiative and second in "the many other areas in the work that we do."
  2. Support Economic Opportunity - which he acknowledged was not something you associate usually with an attorney-generalʻs office.  He specifically mentioned intervening in Endangered Species cases and Outer Continental Shelf cases, "anywhere the stateʻs economic interests are focused."
  3. Protecting the Stateʻs fiscal integrity - collecting monies owed the state or fighting law suits against the state.  
  4. Promoting good government and making sure our state operates within the parameters of the Constitution of the state.

Then he added "the challenges of improving the life in rural Alaska." (His mother-in-law is a Koyukon Athabascan who was born in Rampart.)

While most of the committee members continued the effusive tone the Chair set, Rep. Herron, from Bethel, did question him closely about the stateʻs apparent challenging of federally recognized tribal sovereignty for Alaskaʻs Native peoples in the Kaltag case.  He seemed to sidestep the question whether the state is trying to take over tribal jurisdiction in custody cases by talking about areas of cooperation with Native organizations and by emphasizing concern about sovereignty over non-Natives. Hereʻs part of the Herron-Sullivan exchange:

Again, you can listen to the hearing on Gavel to Gavel.

One might get a little concerned when a Judiciary chair suggests to an Attorney General nominee that he try a little civil disobedience and become the Rosa Parks of Attorneys General and defy the feds in their interference in stateʻs rights through the Endangered Species Act and through Environmental Protection Act.  To the attorney-general nomineeʻs credit, he deflected that role and spoke of other strategies, such as getting other attorneys-general to see that Alaska was just one of the first and that it was in their own interest to support Alaska now, because this was ʻcoming soon to a theater near you.ʻ

Clearly, the Judiciary Chairʻs rapture over this nominee was not simply related to his resume.  Ideology, which included a strong anti-federal government stance on environmental issues (and to a lesser extent tribal sovereignty,) was clearly an important part of this based on the chairʻs explicit support of this stance.  One would hope there would be at least a symbolic acknowledgment that there are many Alaskans who do not share this perspective.   The sense portrayed was of black and white with no suggestion that while there may well be serious problems with the implementation of federal policies in Alaska, that there is some merit to the intent of the laws and regulations.  Only Herron raised a contrary idea on a central issue.

Again, though, the attorney-generalʻs experience in Washington DC - as White House Fellow, as an aide to Condeleezza Rice, and as an Assistant Secretary of State - showed when he said that we shouldnʻt view Washington as a monolith, that there are a number of different factions, and heʻs lobbying many beyond the first line agencies such as Interior.

The fact that Dan Sullivan has been in the job as Attorney-General for eight months now also reraises the question raised when Wayne Anthony Ross was rejected for Attorney-General.  While Ross is, as far as I know, the only Attorney-General not to be approved, it does raise questions about the Legislatureʻs Constitutional powers to approve cabinet appointments, if they start serving when appointed and - in this case - for eight months and counting, before they are approved. On the other hand, this is probably preferable to the long delays at the Federal level when the Senate delays confirmation hearings and nominees wait months, even years, to be confirmed.

And I wouldnʻt be surprised to see Mr. Sullivan running for Governor or Senator sometime.  How about a Republican primary with Mayor Dan Sullivan running against AG Dan Sullivan?

*See Virginia protocol , US State Dept. Protocol for the Modern Diplomat.

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