Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ethics! The Strange Case Of Senator Albert Kookesh

The verbatim quote from State Senator Albert Kookesh (D-Angoon) in this morning's Anchorage Daily News  is sort of jaw-dropping.

Kookesh was speaking before the January 7 Craig City Council meeting.  Craig is a community of about 1,100 souls, located on Craig Island, on the western edge Prince of Wales Island.  Prince of Wales Island is historically the site of a lot of logging activity, and historically, a lot of contention over the same.

Kookesh was there to try to convince the City Council to drop any possible opposition to S 3561, a bill introduced by Alaskan Senators Murkowski (R) and Begich (D).  The measure will benefit his employer, regional native corporation Sealaska, by transferring some 80,000 acres of publicly-owned land into Sealaska's name... thus helping to clear the way for continued logging of the old growth forest.

Now, the Craig City Council has yet to take any action, they're still discussing it.  A small place that needs jobs and economic opportunity should weigh very carefully the pros and cons of development.  Some of the council members are also shareholders in the Sealaska.  They recognize the potential conflict of interest here, so they're doing their best to be judicious about the matter.

Back to Mr. Kookesh:

In addition to being the State Senator that represents the community of Craig, Kookesh is the Sealaska's current board chairman as well as a director for a subsidiary, Sealaska Timber Corp.  Kookesh is also co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest statewide Native organization. Its members include the regional Native corporations and villages around the state.

Perhaps, when he went there, Albert had the best of intentions, and had planned on wearing only his Sealaska hat.  But he apparently couldn't resist mentioning that in addition to being a big shot with Sealaska, he also holds the power of economic retribution over the good citizens of Craig:
“I’m the state senator that represents Craig. I’m not a vindictive person. I see you’re going to have your 2010 capital projects on the table here tonight. And who’s it going to go to? It’s going to go to me. And to (Rep.) Bill Thomas, who is also a Sealaska board member. We have to be good neighbors. There are times you are going to need my help and Bill Thomas’ help. And this is a time we need yours. (emphasis mine)
It should be noted:  Even though Albert dragged his name into the mix, State Representative Bill Thomas, R- Haines (who, besides being a Sealaska board member, sits on the Alaska State House Finance Committee) had the good sense to stay away from the City Council meeting.

I wasn't there, so I have no idea what Senator Kookesh's comments sounded like, but from the quote, it certainly appears to me to be a threat ... or "encouragement" worthy of Vito Corleone.

Several members of the council (including one who used to be the police chief) thought so, too.
Threats of this sort are clearly illegal.  From the state ethic's law:
A legislator may not directly, or by authorizing another to act on the legislator’s behalf... agree to, threaten to, or state or imply that the legislator will take or withhold a legislative, administrative, or political action, including support or opposition to a bill, employment, nominations, and appointments, as a result of a person’s decision to provide or not provide a political contribution, donate or not donate to a cause favored by the legislator, or provide or not provide a thing of value;
But, someone has to file a complaint... and any outrage expressed by some members of Craig's council may never come to fruition in the form of an ethics complaint against Senator Kookesh.  Why?

Because it's been publicized.

In typical legislative cover-your-ass fashion, Alaska's ethics law currently prohibits publicizing an ethics complaint made by anyone against a legislator. Under the "confidentiality" protection the legislature gave itself, if the complaint is publicized by the complainant, the complaint will be dismissed- even if it may be valid.

So that pretty much precludes anyone in Craig who talked to the Anchorage Daily News about it.  They've already violated the "confidentiality" clause.

Perhaps a member of the Alaska Legislature's Ethics Committee will take it into their own hands to investigate.

But I doubt it.