JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Legislature confirmed Jahna Lindemuth as the state’s attorney general Tuesday and approved all but one of Gov. Bill Walker’s nominees to boards, positions and key administration posts.
The lone rejection came near the end of an hours-long joint session, with lawmakers voting down the appointment of Drew Phoenix, a transgender man, to the state’s human rights commission.
Lindemuth, who had faced criticism for pursuing a settlement in a long-running land access dispute, won confirmation with relative ease, on a 52-7 vote. No one spoke against her during the floor debate.
Two other Walker Cabinet members — Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack — also won confirmation.
All three have been serving in their roles, as have others appointed by Walker, but were subject to legislative approval to remain in those jobs.
The dispute Lindemuth has sought to settle involves access along a road leading from Copper Center to Klutina Lake. Copper Center is about 100 miles northeast of Valdez.
Ahtna Inc. has said the road traverses undeveloped Ahtna land. The Alaska Native regional corporation scored a partial victory in superior court in 2016, when a judge found the state’s right-of-way claims to be too far-reaching.
Lindemuth has said the public will be allowed to comment on any proposed settlement and those comments will inform the state’s next steps in the case. She has said her goal is to preserve access.
Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said by email Tuesday that negotiations continue.
While lawmakers were deeply divided on a handful of nominees, including that of former state Sen. Hollis French to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Phoenix was the only nominee to be defeated.
Some conservative groups had tried to paint Phoenix, who has advocated for LGBT rights, as too political for the post.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat who supported Phoenix’s nomination, asked whether the state is willing to appoint people to boards and commissions who understand discrimination first-hand and will work to end it or if people want to live in a state intolerant of those different from the majority or who have different views.
Phoenix told The Associated Press he was “incredibly upset and disheartened” by the vote.
“I just find it so ironic that somebody like myself, with so much years’ experience personally and professional working on behalf of human rights, that they would not confirm me to the commission on human rights,” he said.
The joint session came on the eve of a constitutional deadline for lawmakers to complete their regular session work. However, with major issues like the budget and a plan for addressing the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit unresolved, lawmakers will need more time to finish.
Options include extending the regular session for another 10 days or moving to a special session. Support from minority Republicans is needed in the House to meet the threshold required for an extension to be approved.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Charisse Millett said her caucus is not inclined to support extending the session. The Anchorage Republican said the House majority has failed during the extended session to keep the focus on the budget and a fiscal solution.
“At this point, obviously, we need the governor to lead the House majority to narrow the focus,” she said. If Walker calls a special session, the agenda would be limited to items he puts on it.