By Andrew Halcro
February 01, 2011
In 1936, after just 327 controversial days on the throne, King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to be with Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved rather than be forced to be without her. “But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love,” Edward said in his farewell speech to a worldwide audience December 11, 1936.
Seventy five years later, meet not so King Kyle Johansen, an Alaska State House member from Ketchikan, who after only a few minutes upon becoming House Majority Leader shocked his colleagues and angered his constituents by abdicating his position to be with the woman he loved.
While the former King's actions might have played in England circa 1936, (after all Edward's punishment was going on to become the Governor of Bahamas) this is 2011, and with Ketchikan losing their key voice in the State House, the locals are more than restless, they want blood.
This ordeal started on November 5, 2010 when just days after the election the House Republicans met to organize and pick caucus leaders. Johansen was upset that his 21st century version of Wallis Simpson, fellow Rep. Charisse Millett, was turned down from the position she sought within the organization. In a move some might call chivalry while others might call suicide, Johansen and Millett quit the caucus and walked out, burning bridges behind them.
Today they are affectionately called the “Love Caucus”, due to the close personal relationship which has supplied an endless stream of capital gossip for the last two years. However at home, Johansen is being called a traitor, a disgrace and calls for his resignation have come from his local newspaper.
"Johansen has shown that his first priority as a legislator isn't District 1. He's already quit on us; all that's left is to make it official. Kyle Johansen should resign,” wrote the Ketchikan Daily News in a November editorial.
A recall effort has been launched by Ketchikan Republicans who argue that Johansen has violated his responsibilities and no longer has the support of the people who elected him.
Dick Coose, the Republican Chairman of Ketchikan, said fellow Republicans felt the recall was their only solution after Johansen had refused calls to resign. In a statement issued Monday, Jan. 24th, Johansen said he would vigorously fight the recall.
Recalls are rare in the fifty year history of Alaska, but the attempt to oust Johansen represents the second attempt in seven years to accomplish just that. In August of 2004 former Alaska State Senator Scott Ogan resigned at the eleventh hour after a judge cleared the way for a recall petition to be place on the upcoming ballot.
Ogan came under fire for promoting coal bed methane gas drilling in the Matanuska Valley Borough, while at the same time accepting a $40,000 per year consulting contract from a firm that held 300,000 acres of gas leases. Opponents of the proposed drilling accused Ogan of a blatant conflict of interest and filed a recall petition which resulted in the gathering on 4,000 signatures in just a matter of months.
Instead of becoming the first legislator in Alaska history to be recalled, Ogan resigned just days after Judge Sharon Gleason ruled the harm done to the lawmaker was far less than the constitutional rights of citizens to seek the recall of elected officials, a right she called “of a high magnitude.”
But the precedent established in the Scott Ogan case does not bode well for Kyle Johansen. In her ruling, Judge Gleason rejected all of the plantiff's motions including the main argument that the recall was not specific enough.
Under state law, a recall can take place for corruption, incompetence, neglect of duties or lack of fitness. With the exception of corruption, a case could be made against Johansen for any of the remaining three. And given the low bar set in the Ogan recall, Johansen could be tossed out on his caucus by this fall.
One hopes Johansen, when faced with an Ogan-esq quandry, will harken back to the words of King Edward VII and tailor them to exit with class, “I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of Alaska with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to our state in a private station, I shall not fail.”
God save the Kyle.
About: Andrew Halcro was a member of the Alaska State House of Representatives 1999-2003. He was also a candidate for Governor of Alaska in 2006.
Received February 01, 2011 - Published February 01, 2011
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