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On Nov. 6, the voters of House District 33 will decide who shall represent us in the Alaska House of Representatives.
It’s not a decision to make lightly, given the great privilege, trust and responsibility accorded to the individual who represents the district.
Any candidate can make promises.
How can we trust that a candidate will work effectively for our district and reflect honorably on us, the constituency, once in office?
Track records can help.
We’re fortunate that all three candidates for House District 33 already have track records in elected office.
During the upcoming campaigns, we anticipate that the Republican candidate — Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell — and the Democratic candidate — Ketchikan City Council Member Matt Olsen — will stand on their records without hesitation.
Not so for the newly “independent” Rep. Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan.
So far, Johansen has managed to avoid an accurate accounting and accountability for his curious record of behavior as representative.
We don’t expect a sudden burst of candor from Johansen now as he strives to focus on any issue other than his record in an attempt to salvage his political career.
The only major issue of Johansen’s candidacy is his record.
As such, a brief recap of that record is in order.
It begins in 2006, when then-lobbyist Kyle Johansen challenged the incumbent Rep. Jim Elkins of Ketchikan in the Republican primary election for House District 1.
After defeating Elkins, Johansen was unopposed in the 2006 general election and began serving as the House District 1 representative in 2007. He became chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and was off to a promising start in the Alaska Legislature.
Johansen ran unopposed again in the 2008 elections and became the Republican House Majority Leader, second only to the House Speaker in the Republican leadership.
One of his caucus colleagues was Charisse Millett, a newly elected Republican from Anchorage. Millett served as co-chair of the House Energy Committee, of which Johansen was a member.
Johansen quickly began spending large swaths of time outside of Juneau and House District 1.
Some of Johansen’s travel was on House Energy Committee and other legislative business around Alaska.
Some of it was attending conferences and meetings around the country and Canada in places like Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Calgary, Alberta; Memphis, Tenn.; and, of course, Washington, D.C. Millett’s travel records include most of the same trips.
Much of Johansen’s time away was spent, week upon week, in the Anchorage area.
State records do not indicate where Johansen stayed during most of his time in Anchorage. Johansen did not return multiple phone calls from the Daily News seeking comment for a June 2011 story about his travel, per-diem and campaign spending records for 2009-10.
Those records indicate that Johansen spent at least 210 days traveling and staying outside of House District 1 and Juneau during 2009 and 2010 — not counting the full days spent in Juneau for the legislative sessions.
In addition to the state-funded travel, Johansen’s single largest campaign expenditure in 2010 — more than $5,000 — was debit payments to Alaska Airlines for “travel” and “airfare” for undisclosed travelers and destinations.
By April 2009, mentions of a relationship between Johansen and Millett began to surface in the regular media and blogosphere.
Meanwhile, Johansen’s signature achievement during the 2009-10 Legislature was the passage of the “Open and Transparent Initiative Act.”
Johansen described the legislation — co-sponsored by Millett and Rep. Peggy Wilson — as something that would restore Alaskans’ faith in the electoral process by allowing “voters to know exactly who is contributing to an initiative, for or against any issue.
“Alaskans deserve to know where the money is coming from, and cast their vote with that knowledge," Johansen said.
In the 2010 elections, Johansen was unopposed in the Republican primary and faced Democratic challenger Ottar Mobley of Thorne Bay in the general election.
Johansen made few campaign appearances in Ketchikan that year. During one forum appearance, Johansen stressed his experience, leadership position, and what he described as good relationships with other legislators as reasons to vote Johansen.
He defeated Mobley easily in the November 2010 election.
When the?new Republican Majority Caucus met to organize the House for the 2011-12 Legislature, Johansen again was selected as Republican House Majority Leader.
Millett, however, didn’t get the committee chairmanship she wanted and left the caucus in a huff.
The next day, Johansen offered the caucus a deal whereby he would give up his House Majority Leader position if Millett were given a seat on the House Finance Committee. Johansen would take the chairmanship of the House Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Committee instead.
The caucus said no deal.
Johansen followed Millett out the caucus door. The caucus quickly elected Rep. Alan Austerman of Kodiak as House Majority Leader. Johansen was out of the organization.
He stated that his departure wasn’t related to his relationship with Millett, which he later described only as a close personal friendship, adding that he has personal relationships with many of his colleagues.
Rather, Johansen described his exit as displeasure with the philosophical direction of the Republican caucus. He expressed fear that the House would vote to reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Program. Specifically, he wanted Millett on the House Finance Committee as a strong conservative, pro-development Republican rather than Dillingham Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who Johansen described as a rural Democrat with a record of opposing resource development.
“I couldn’t with good conscience stand up and be the face as a majority leader of a group that I don’t believe is moving in the right direction,” Johansen said.
Millett expressed a different view of the Finance Committee, telling an Anchorage talk radio host that she didn’t want a Finance Committee seat and wouldn’t have taken it had it been offered to her.
As for Coastal Zone Management, Johansen was correct that the House would vote on reauthorizing the program. In 2011, Johansen voted yes with a 40-0 bipartisan majority in support of reauthorizing Coastal Zone Management.
Whatever the actual reasons for Johansen’s departure, Johansen and Millett were outside of the House Republican caucus and without any positions of influence in the leadership or as committee chairs.
The pair were quickly dubbed the “Love Caucus” by an Anchorage Daily News writer, a label that endures to this day.
In late November 2010, the chagrined House District 1 Republicans organization quietly asked Johansen to resign.
Johansen assured House District 1 constituents that he would be readmitted to the Republican caucus, and that he would have a committee co-chairmanship, at least, when the Legislature convened in January 2011.
The caucus members ignored Johansen’s and Millett’s requests to rejoin the caucus. Both were relegated to minor committee and subcommittee roles for the entire 2011-12 Legislature.
The House District 1 Republicans in 2011 launched a recall petition effort, citing “incompetence,” “lack of integrity” and neglect of duty on the part of Johansen.
“District 1 has been embarrassed by his irresponsible, juvenile behavior, and (he) has lost the trust and confidence of his constituency,” the petition stated. “Rep. Johansen has refused to apologize or accept responsibility for his actions. District 1 has no meaningful voice in the state Legislature.”
Johansen — whose official legislative biography once listed “Art of War” author Sir Sun Wu and lie-detection specialist Paul Ekman as special interests — decried the recall effort as being led by members of the Tea Party and a local church.
The recall, said Johansen, was an effort to “thwart the will of the people.”
Nearly 600 voters signed the recall petition. No one got to vote on the issue.
The Alaska Department of Law said the petition didn’t provide enough legal grounds for a recall, prompting the Alaska Division of Elections to announce in October that it would not certify the petition and schedule a recall election.
The recall organizers declined to restart the process because it couldn’t be completed in time to affect Johansen’s remaining term in office.
Without a key position in the Legislature, Johansen found that his state-funded travel was curtailed sharply.
He told the local Chamber of Commerce that he would be accepting an $8,000 raise in his state-paid office expense account because he wanted to have money to travel without first having to ask the House Speaker for permission.
State records indicate Johansen used his office account for other items, too.
In 2011, for example, Johansen’s office bought two television sets, paying more than $1,200 for one 46-inch, flat-screen model, according to state records.
In April 2011, Johansen bought a Nikon D90 camera with about $1,200 from his state office account, according to state records. In August 2011, Johansen obtained an Alaska business license for his new photography business.
Johansen has asserted that he would continue to be successful as a lawmaker outside of the caucus.
During the past two years, the Legislature has approved two items sponsored by Johansen.
One of those bills names the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry terminal in Ketchikan after the late Walter Kubley. The other bill is a resolution urging the federal government not to apply Roadless Rule protections that would restrict hydroelectric projects in the Tongass and Chugach national forests.
Johansen also sponsored a satirical resolution that called for the federal government to take over Central Park and not allow further development unless authorized by Congress. The resolution garnered some media and blogger buzz out East, but soon died in the House Resources Committee.
In addition, Johansen has pointed to large state capital project budgets in House District 1 as a sign that he has remained successful in the Legislature.
The political reality is that capital project funding has been secured by our senator, Bert Stedman of Sitka, who has served for the past four years as the Senate Finance Committee co-chairman responsible for crafting the Senate version of the state’s capital budget.
In July 2011, Johansen filed a letter of intent to run for re-election.
At first, Johansen didn’t appear concerned about the potential for competition in the Republican primary.
Johansen cited the sponsors of the recall petition when telling the Daily News that if the recall sponsors “have a problem” with him, they could sign up and run in the Republican primary election.
“I would welcome the challenge from either,” Johansen said.
Those individuals didn’t become candidates in the Republican primary election.
But Republicans Agnes Moran and Patti Mackey of Ketchikan did jump into the GOP primary race, which also included incumbent House District 2 Rep. Peggy Wilson, whose hometown of Wrangell now is joined with Ketchikan in the new House District 33.
Johansen didn’t welcome the challenges. He bailed out.
“I just decided to move away from the party politics of running for office this year,” he said after announcing that he was dropping out of the Republican primary to run as an independent candidate in the upcoming general election.
Johansen said he wanted to focus on issues rather than personalities and party positions, and still hoped to participate in every available debate with the other candidates.
Johansen didn’t participate in the primary candidate forums.
On primary election day, Johansen said he had kept a low profile because he “felt it was fair for the community to have a good look at the three people who were all on the ballot.”
Now, Johansen again says he wants to be part of as many candidate debates as possible.
And, less than two years after walking out of the Republican caucus with the stated reason that the caucus was allowing a rural Democrat on the House Finance Committee, Johansen now says he’ll join any majority caucus — Republican or Democrat — if re-elected.
“It doesn’t matter to me who holds the gavel, I will be working within the majority caucus,” he said.
Such statements assume re-election.
Note the launch of his campaign’s foray into social media with the message of: “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Johansen will retain his seatt!!”
It’s House District 33’s seat, and it’s the district’s voters who will decide which candidate will have the honor, trust and responsibility of representing them in the Alaska House of Representatives.
Even this brief synopsis of Johansen’s track record suggests that, in his case, those concepts no longer apply.
Of course, voters can make their own inquiries into Johansen’s full record and reach their own conclusions.
Given Johansen’s deep interest in requiring openness and transparency by others, he should welcome the inquiries.