Johnstone fails in bid for fisheries board

Legislators cite several concerns, including vindictive behavior, bullying

State legislators have rejected the nomination of controversial Board of Fisheries nominee Karl Johnstone in a heated floor session of both houses, by a vote of 23-33, but approved appointment of Israel Payton, Marit Carlson-Van Dort and Gerad Godfrey.

The rejection of Johnstone, who was nominated by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, came on April 17, along with the rejection of six other Dunleavy nominees for state boards.

In advance of the full Legislature’s confirmation hearings, the House Fisheries Committee, chaired by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, heard from all four nominees and numerous Alaskans who called in during a four-hour teleconference in support or opposition to each of the four.

Stutes noted during that committee meeting that opinion articles that Johnstone wrote for publication in Alaska newspapers reflected a bias toward commercial fisheries, and also asked Johnstone if he is an advocate for farmed salmon in Alaska. Johnstone said a specific commentary in which he said farmed fish are the way of the future was “meant to get people thinking,” and that he did not favor salmon farming in Alaska. Johnstone also denied any bias toward commercial fishing.

During the floor session, Stutes reiterated her opposition to approving Johnstone for a seat on the fisheries board, which he once chaired, citing serious concerns about him brought to the attention of her committee, including comments from several people who said they feared his vindictive behavior, bullying, and concerns that he favored reallocating fish from commercial to sport fisheries.  During the committee teleconference Johnstone denied such behavior.

The floor session became heated when Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, rose to say that within the last 24 hours more than two women had shared with her office concerns about alleged inappropriate sexual comments made to them, making for a hostile work environment.

Several other legislators promptly objected, saying they needed to consider making a decision on accusations without due process.

“We need to stick to the facts,” said Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage. “My vote is based on protecting the fish in Alaska. These are unfounded claims.”

Others, including Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, also objected to accusations, saying it was unfair because Johnstone was not there to respond.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, noting that there had been multiple serious allegations made against Johnstone, asked for the tabling of that nomination, and it was tabled, by a vote of 28-27, with several legislators absent.

Later in the evening, legislators voted to bring the matter back to the floor and discussion on whether to approve Johnstone resumed. When the vote was called, senators voted 9-11 against Johnstone, and representatives, 15-22, for a total 24-33 rejection of his confirmation.

Legislators also rejected for various reasons, from a passion for ghost hunting to social media posts advocating for violence against Muslims, six other nominations.

Dunleavy may now submit new names to replace rejected nominees  John Francis, of Wasilla, for the state’s violent crimes compensation board; Scott Flamme, Fairbanks, for the Board of Veterinary Examiners; Vivian Stiver, Fairbanks, for the marijuana board; Marisha Dieters, Eagle River, for the Board of Nursing; James McDermott, Anchorage, for the Alaska Public Offices Commission; and Michael, Tavoliero, Eagle River, for the Real Estate Commission.