Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
For a second time in six months, Alaska's attorney general resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations. Something's broken.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 14 of the 32nd Legislature, a chilly morning in Anchorage (as I’m writing this) and the fantastic Bianca Belair is the winner of the Royal Rumble and headed to Wrestlemania. The House is still not organized.
Today’s edition covers: The resignation of Attorney General-designee Ed Sniffen, continued drama in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a look at the legislative week ahead.
Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration announced that long-time Department of Law attorney, acting attorney general following former Gov. Kevin Clarkson’s resignation for the sexual harassment of a junior state employee and attorney general-designee for 11 days Clyde “Ed” Sniffen had not just withdrawn from the position but also left state service. By Saturday we’d find out why.
“Acting Alaska Attorney General Ed Sniffen’s abrupt resignation was announced Friday as the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica were preparing an article about allegations of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl three decades ago,” the article by Anchorage Daily News’ Kyle Hopkins began, entitled “Sexual misconduct allegations prompt another Alaska attorney general to resign.”
The story details allegations that Sniffen, while a 27-year-old attorney at a local Anchorage law firm had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student on the mock trial competition team he coached. “I asked him for a virgin pina colada,” recalled Nikki Dougherty White, now 47, of the school trip where it began. “And what he brought me later I found out was not virgin and he actually had an extra shot added.”
There’s a lot of stomach-churning details in this story, but perhaps the most striking is that not only did “several Anchorage attorneys said they had been aware for decades that Sniffen had an inappropriate relationship with a young woman early in his career” but that such an open secret served as no apparent hinderance for Sniffen’s career. Both he and the entire system were willing to look the other way as he climbed the ladder to the state’s top law enforcement position. As former state attorney Libby Balakar—who was fired by Sniffen hours after Dunleavy was sworn in as part of the loyalty pledge firings—writes in her OneHotMessAlaska blog, “This Should Make Us All Very Mad.”
“The fact that Ed Sniffen thought for one second that he could simply slide into the top law enforcement job in Alaska—a state with the highest rates of sexual assault in the country—with an alleged sex felony against a minor in his background—tells you everything you need to know about how privileged and powerful men in positions of authority are accustomed to a consequence-free existence,” she writes. “But you can hardly blame them. Experience and society tell them they’re entitled to it. Men and women alike fearfully and fawningly scoot them along and protect them, whether due to their own intimidation and ambition, or in the case of many women, the internalized misogyny that makes us leap to their defense and feel sorry for them even now.”
On its own, Sniffen’s resignation ought to be a platform for Alaska and the Alaska legal system to have a long, hard look in the mirror and explore meaningful changes that appropriately deals with all the other “open secrets” that have been allowed to fester. But then again, that’s the sort of thing we were saying when Clarkson resigned only for the governor to stonewall and strong-arm press about what we later found out what as an effort to cover the whole thing up internally. And then again, this is an Alaska Bar Association that, as Bakalar reminds us, “had scheduled Alan Dershowitz—himself an accused minor sex offender—to be keynote speaker at its 2020 convention until ‘cancel culture’ came for the honor.”
Credit to Nikki Dougherty White, who picked up the phone to relive her story, credit to the Anchorage Daily News and Kyle Hopkins for carefully reporting the story and finding the records to back it up and credit to attorneys like Bakalar who can stand up and say, “This should make us all very mad.”
Last week’s show that was Reinbold’s Senate Judiciary Committee—which, coincidentally, would have been the committee to review Sniffen’s appointment—was supposed to be a two-parter. I wrote about the gong show that was the first meeting, which was largely expected given Reinbold’s conspiracy theorizing over the last year, that featured the author of a widely mocked plan to let covid run near-wild, several free association sessions on the U.S. Constitution and covid measures and an exemplary performance by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum to run out the clock. That the second meeting was canceled came as no surprise given Reinbold’s warning that if the administration didn’t provide whoever she wanted to berate—specifically Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink and Sniffen—that she’d be forced to cancel it. Reinbold has scheduled hearings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week with the main goal, still, to be “reviewing” covid orders.
But if you’re looking forward to the Zink v. Reinbold match, keep waiting.
Alaska Public Media apologizes
On Friday, Alaska Public Media published a story about Alaska Native health care groups vaccinating members of the Alaska Native corporations and non-Native members of member households. It wiped away a lot of the context surrounding the allocation of vaccines to Alaska Native health groups and their success in distributing them—something that Alaska Public Media has played a strong role in publicizing—and left most reading a story rife with the sort of racial animosity that white conservatives have aimed at Alaska Natives. The backlash was strong, to say the least.
On Sunday, author Nat Herz penned an open letter about the story, its failings and a desire to improve things in the future.
“The reaction to the story has prompted intense reflection in our organization about how we can improve. We feel that there remains an important role for journalism in providing accountability for Alaska institutions, both non-Native and Native. But we acknowledge that there is a better approach than yesterday’s story,” he wrote. “This experience has demonstrated the urgency for us to form deeper, direct connections to the Alaska Native community, and to have more Native voices involved in shaping our coverage — not just from the outside of our institution, but from the inside.”
Monday, Feb. 1
9 Senate Education — “Outstanding and emerging issues in K-12 education.”
9 Senate Finance — Continued presentation from the Office of Management and Budget on the budget with plans to continue to 1 p.m. with a presentation by the Legislative Finance Division. The Senate wasn’t particularly pleased with the administration’s look at the budget, which they say is downplaying and ignoring the issues before the state.
11 House Floor Session. (Don’t expect much.)
11 Senate Floor Session.
1:30 Senate Judiciary — A hearing COVID-19 disaster declarations & extensions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s canceled, given the administration’s refusal to participate, but will be must-see programming if it goes on.
Tuesday, Feb. 2
9 Senate Finance — A hearing on state savings, budget reserves, & debt. Given Sen. Stedman’s talk about the state of the state’s cashflow, this ought to be interesting. Alaska is getting precariously close to having day-to-day cashflow problems and a $2 billion overdraw for the dividend isn’t helping.
1:30 Senate Health & Social Services — SB 56 by Governor Dunleavy, extending COVID-19 disaster emergency. This bill is not getting a stop in the Senate Judiciary Committee, wonder why?
3:30 Senate State Affairs – SB 43 by Sen. Hughes lifting campaign finance limits on independent expenditure groups for candidate races, SB 25 by Sen. Wielechowski putting the state checkbook back online and SB 39 by Sen. Shower to repeal automatic voter registration and making it harder to vote. Those are bad-faith elections bills but seeing Wielechowski’s checkbook bill getting a hearing is great news after Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka shut down the important transparency tool.
Wednesday, Feb. 3
9 Senate Education — A hearing with Pat Pitney on the University of Alaska.
9 Senate Finance — A hearing on SB 50, the governor’s capital budget.
1:30 Senate Judiciary – COVID-19 disaster declarations, extensions, & liability; SB 14 by Mike Shower, selection & review of judges. Still mostly the covid show, but also a bill by a conservative senator taking aim at the judiciary and the Judicial Council.
3:30 Senate Resources. No agenda set at this time.
Thursday, Feb. 4
9 Senate Finance – Confirmation hearing: Revenue commissioner Lucinda Mahoney; Angela Rodell: Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation
1:30 Senate Health & Social Services. Bills previously heard (which would be only be the disaster declaration bill, if we’re keeping track).
3:30 Senate State Affairs — SB 53 by Governor Dunleavy, setting an advisory vote on the Permanent Fund. Also getting a hearing is Dunleavy’s slate of constitutional amendments.
Friday, Feb. 5
9 Senate Education – SB 19 by Gary Stevens, extend special education service agency
9 Senate Finance – PERS/TRS update
1:30 Senate Judiciary – COVID-19 disaster declarations & extensions; confirmation hearings to be announced.
One last wrestling thing from the Royal Rumble: