Alaska Legislature rejects governor’s pick for university board; all other nominees accepted

Bethany Marcum, defeated for the Board of Regents, is the head of the Alaska Policy Forum and a former member of the redistricting board

By: - May 9, 2023 5:09 pm

Alaska legislators watch the voting board during a joint session on confirmations, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Legislature approved all but one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s picks for state boards and commissions in a once-per-year joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday.

The lone person who did not get the Legislature’s approval was Bethany Marcum, who had been nominated for a seat on the University of Alaska’s governing Board of Regents. Marcum is the head of the Alaska Policy Forum, a nonprofit that promotes conservative policies.

Marcum needed 31 votes from the 60-member Legislature but received only 29. 

None of the 78 other appointments received fewer than 34 votes. Legislators approved Adam Crum to lead the Department of Revenue, Jen Winkelman as commissioner of the Department of Corrections, and John Boyle to lead the Department of Natural Resources.

Kim Kovol was confirmed as the head of the Department of Family and Community Services and Heidi Hedberg as commissioner of the Department of Health. Both of those agencies were created when the Department of Health and Social Services was split into two last year.

Rep. Alyse Galvin, I-Anchorage, said legislators normally defer to the governor on appointments. 

“Unless you see some major truck in the middle of the road that you’re about to hit, you say yes, because these are the governor’s choices,” she said.

Last year, legislators approved all of Dunleavy’s nominees.

But in Marcum’s case, Galvin received dozens of personally written letters urging her to vote no, and she joined a majority voting against the pick.

Legislators who voted against Marcum cited her 2019 support of Dunleavy’s proposal to slash state support for the University of Alaska by 41%. 

The governor later rescinded that proposal in favor of a three-year plan of phased cuts, two of which were later scaled back before the university budget started growing again last year. However, current lawmakers said Marcum’s advocacy made them question her support for the university system.

“You’ve got to believe in the basic premise of the institution,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage.

Before being nominated to the Board of Regents, Marcum was a member of Alaska’s five-person redistricting board. 

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that three members of the board, including Marcum, attempted to illegally gerrymander the state to favor Republican candidates.

“I do not believe we can trust someone who went against the Alaska Constitution twice, as ruled by the Alaska Supreme Court,” said Rep. Andrew Gray, D-Anchorage, referring to two separate rulings.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said he doesn’t trust Marcum, in part because of his experience when he was a legislative staffer. 

Kiehl said Marcum testified in favor of a bill proposed by then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, and attempted to conceal the fact that she was Dunleavy’s aide, he said.

“If you cannot trust the people you work with, you cannot work with them,” he said.

Dozens of Republicans in the state House and Senate rose in Marcum’s defense.

Frank Tomaszewski, R-Fairbanks, said he finds Marcum “honest and above reproach,” while House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, said she always “maintains respect and decorum” even while under fire.

Several Republicans said legislators shouldn’t conflate Marcum’s comments while leading the Alaska Policy Forum — part of a conservative nationwide network — with her personal beliefs.

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, suggested that Marcum could bring a new perspective to the Board of Regents.

“To have a fiscal watchdog … is not a bad thing,” said Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.

Marcum did not return a text message seeking comment.

Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy communications director, said that when the governor picks a new person for the Board of Regents, the governor’s office will make an announcement.

Correction: This article originally described Marcum as the former head of the Alaska Policy Forum. She currently serves as its chief executive officer.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].