FAIRBANKS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ralph Samuels wants Gov. Sean Parnell to dismiss his senior energy adviser, former state Sen. Gene Therriault of North Pole.
Therriault resigned from the Legislature 10 months ago to take the job in the Parnell administration.
But according to a July 1 memorandum by Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan, prompted by a situation involving another lawmaker, there exists an “appreciable risk” that an Alaska court would deem the hiring of a sitting legislator in violation of the state constitution’s ineligibility clause.
The clause states: “During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member.”
Therriault said he has no plans to resign and disagrees that his hiring might breach the law.
“It’s a little bit different situation because prior to my being hired, the governor was not the governor,” Therriault said.
The purpose of the clause is to prevent lawmakers from creating state jobs for themselves while crafting the state operating budget.
Therriault said that could not have happened in his case because Parnell created the job after taking office last July. The state operating budget was signed into law two months before by Parnell’s predecessor, then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
“If there was a suggestion that during the session there were undue influences, that is not the situation with me,” Therriault said. “There was no opportunity.”
The hiring of legislators attracted attention recently when an Anchorage legislator, Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, took a job in the Parnell administration. Dahlstrom resigned from the Legislature on June 1 to work as a military adviser for Parnell.
She quit that job earlier this month following the July 1 memorandum from the attorney general.
The memo corrected previous legal advice that a lawmaker is eligible for a new position in the executive branch so long as that position was formally created after the lawmaker resigned. Attorneys for the Legislative Affairs Agency also apparently held that opinion.
Therriault said he knew little about the details of his new job until after he resigned from the Legislature.
“It was a leap of faith,” he said.
Samuels, who hopes to defeat Parnell in the Aug. 24 Republican primary election, stated in a news release last week that Parnell’s hiring of sitting legislators violates the spirit of the Alaska Constitution and state law.
Therriault said, however, the framers of Alaska’s constitution would have clearly stated it if they had wanted legislators disqualified for new jobs created by the governor. He added Samuels was a member of the Legislature when other state lawmakers were hired into the executive branch. Samuels made no complaints then, Therriault said.
A spokeswoman for Parnell said the governor wanted Dahlstrom to continue in her job and does not think Therriault ought to leave his job either.
Parnell told reporters earlier this month that he will hire no more legislators, pending a possible change in state statute clarifying the ineligibility clause, particularly the circumstances under which governors can hire legislators.