Members of the state Elections Commission have once again voted to delay beginning the process of finding a new administrator.
Republican appointees on the panel pushed Wednesday morning to review a decision made last week to keep current administrator Mike Haas in place, even though his confirmation was rejected by the state Senate. The panel is evenly split between Democrat and Republican appointees, who voted 4-2 last week to retain Haas based on arguments that only the commission can fire the administrator.
Haas, along with Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell, both served as interim directors of their agencies for more than a year after they were created from the dissolved Government Accountability Board. The Senate had not moved to confirm them during that time, but GOP leaders pushed for a vote after a Department of Justice investigation into the leak of documents from a secret John Doe probe that targeted conservatives was released. While the source was not found, the attorney general blamed the leak on the former GAB. Haas and Bell both worked for the agency, which some lawmakers argued was evidence they could not be trusted to remain impartial.
While Bell returned to his former job in state government, Haas remains in the position for now. Lawmakers could act to fill the position they believe is currently vacant if the panel fails to appoint someone by March 9th. Commissioner Dean Knudson, a former Republican state lawmaker, urged members to consider that timeline and name at least a new interim administrator for the time being. “I think it’s time for us to get going on this,” he argued. “I think there’s urgency for us to get stability.”
Commission member Ann Jacobs, a Democratic appointee, questioned whether the panel could even find a suitable administrator right now though, given the legal uncertainty surrounding the position. “I’m less sanguine about the thought of us getting some really terrific national candidates out there who are eager to come here, and be subject to the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head at all times if they veer from one political party’s view of what this position should be doing,” she said.
Members voted 4-2 again Wednesday morning to table Knudson’s motion, likely delaying a decision until early March. In response, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a statement that he’s concerned the move will force the Legislature to act. “I urge the commission to reconsider its position and install a new administrator prior to the March 9th deadline,” he said.