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Day 115: Marcum rejected and reappointed
Out of a job on the Board of Regents, Marcum heads back to the Alaska Redistricting Board.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s day 115 of the legislative session. One week remains.
In this edition: The Legislature held its annual marathon joint session on the governor’s appointees on Tuesday, confirming all but Bethany Marcum’s appointment to the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents. A long-time fixture of far-right politics, Marcum’s defeat could be a sign of shifting politics in Alaska. But that’s not the last we’ll hear from Marcum because, on Wednesday night, she was reappointed to her old job on the Alaska Redistricting Board. The Board will meet this Monday to consider further action on the state’s election maps, so let’s break it down.
Current mood: 😲
The Alaska Legislature on Tuesday narrowly rejected Alaska Policy Forum CEO and former Alaska Redistricting Board member Bethany Marcum for a spot on the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents, marking the only rejection of the governor’s appointees in this year’s round of confirmations.
Legislators voted 31-29 to reject Marcum’s appointment, with several legislators raising concerns that her long track record seen by many as antagonistic toward public schools and the university system, her time on the Alaska Redistricting Board and her questionable honesty made her a bad fit to oversee the University of Alaska.
By Wednesday evening, she was reappointed to the Alaska Redistricting Board (more on this below).
Much of the discussion revolved around her support for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first budget in office and subsequent vetoes that deeply cut state government, including a decimating 41% cut to the University of Alaska state funding. While several Republicans questioned whether Marcum really supported those cuts, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson pointed to the media reports of her comments when she praised the governor’s actions.
Rep. Josephson said it doesn’t make sense for someone who doesn’t believe in the institution’s mission to be given a role overseeing it.
“She was sort of abetting and supportive of those draconian vetoes. My problem is if you’re appointed, for example, to the Board of Hairdressers and Barbers, you better believe in a clean cut. You better believe in a good style,” he said, getting some chuckles. “You’ve gotta have some belief in the institution you’re serving. Yes, you can be a critic. Of course, you can offer diversity; I know there is already diversity. But you’ve gotta believe in the basic premise of the institution. There’s no way to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I like this institution and also support cutting 41% of the state grant.’ I can’t connect those dots.”
A few even questioned her honesty with Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, recalling a heated exchange he had with her when they were both legislative aides. The only problem, though, was that Marcum never disclosed that she was working in the Legislature at the time and represented herself as a parent just having some trouble navigating the legislative process, allegedly working herself into a teary shouting match over the children “trapped” in Alaska’s education system.
“The university has policies on academic integrity; we don’t let students dissemble, plagiarize, misrepresent,” he said. “We must not appoint a regent who did to me.”
To her Republican backers, though, Marcum could do no wrong.
They praised her as a “diversity” hire for the Board of Regents that would bring a deeply conservative mindset to the University of Alaska, suggesting that she would finally get the system back on track (gee, I wonder why it’s off track). As for the accusations of dishonesty, Rep. Dan Saddler—an Eagle River Republican who testified with a straight face that Marcum’s plan to pair one Eagle River district with South Anchorage made perfect sense—said that’s how people talk in the building.
“We should not hold someone culpable and unqualified for an offhand remark,” he said.
The final vote on Marcum’s appointment was 31N-29Y. A later attempt to reopen the vote brought by far-right Rep. David Eastman for a second try failed on a 34N-26Y margin.
The governor will be able to refill the seat on the Board of Regents, and that replacement will be able to serve at least through next year’s confirmation hearing.
Why it matters: The rejection of someone from the Alaska Policy Forum, which has long been a cornerstone of Alaska’s Republican politics, would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Republicans may have once been in lockstep under the ever-present threat that they’d become an enemy of the party and face a primary challenge from someone willing to toe the party line. Today, it’s becoming clear that more and more Republicans are less and less afraid of retaliation from the party.
It also probably doesn’t help that Marcum’s last-ditch plan to pair Eagle River with South Anchorage appeared to be directly aimed at keeping moderate Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel—who lost her 2020 primary after standing up as one of the top roadblocks to Dunleavy’s attempts to gut state government—from a return to the Legislature. That plan didn’t work, and Giessel was one of the 31 legislators to vote against Marcum on Tuesday.
Follow the thread: The Legislature’s joint confirmation hearing
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On Wednesday night, the governor announced that he had reappointed Marcum to fill the vacant position on the Alaska Redistricting Board. The Board is set to meet again on Monday, a meeting that was announced moments after the legislator rejected Marcum’s appointment, to get an update on the Alaska Supreme Court’s scathing decision on their work and consider whatever next steps are needed.
What’s important to keep in mind here is the maps that were used in the 2022 election were ordered by the courts after finding twice that the Alaska Redistricting Board’s Republican majority had attempted to sneak by partisan gerrymanders that would have likely expanded conservative Eagle River’s representation in the Alaska Legislature. So that makes them interim maps, and while the Alaska Supreme Court noted it was wary of sending it back to the Alaska Redistricting Board for a third time, it did so with the caveat that the board would have to convince Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews—who oversaw the Superior Court arguments and was just as critical of the board’s actions—that changes are warranted.
That will be a tough challenge given Judge Matthews’ knowledge of the case and the Alaska Supreme Court’s detailed explanations of why the interim maps—and not the board’s shenanigans with Eagle River—meet constitutional muster. So the Alaska Redistricting Board, with all its baggage, would have to come up with an argument that there’s something even more constitutional than the court’s plans.
Still, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the Board’s Republican majority would give it a shot. At least non-Republican members Melanie Bahnke and Nicole Borromeo will raise hell if they do.
Even if the Board ultimately adopts the interim plan as the final plan, it doesn’t entirely close the door on this round of redistricting.
Since it’s a new plan, a new round of lawsuits could be filed by third parties challenging the maps. Last time, the expedited round of lawsuits meant there wasn’t any time for anyone to challenge the interim maps ahead of the 2022 elections, so that window will open if a final plan is adopted.