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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  

Lawsuit Against Bella Hammond and Vic Fisher Should be Dropped; and East High Goodness

Note from Rep. Les Gara

October 28, 2013

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Dear Neighbors,

         I’m coming to grips with the fact that it’s getting cold and fishing season might be over. So, this newsletter might be a little raw, as I get used to the reality that fall “might” be over. Apologies in advance.

Governor Should Drop Lawsuit Against Former First Lady Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer

         You’ve probably heard the state is suing former First Lady Bella Hammond and constitutional framer Vic Fisher - Alaskan icons - for challenging Pebble Mine permits for what would be the largest surface mine in North America, and a potential toxic threat to the world's greatest wild salmon and trout streams.  The Governor has the discretion to drop the lawsuit against Alaskans of limited income, and should.

         I and others warned the law would be used to threaten, or punish, Alaskans who, in good faith, challenged government action they believed illegally endangered our fishing and hunting rights.  Now it has been.

         The law was passed by Governor Murkowski and his legislative allies in 2003 (excerpts from my Floor Speech opposing the bill below).  Last week the state announced it would seek attorney’s fees against Ms. Hammond and Mr. Fischer for a good faith lawsuit they filed to seek public input before the state disposed of our land rights to the British and Canadian Pebble Mine developers.  Now, between the state and those mine developers, roughly $1 million in attorney’s fees are being demanded from two of Alaska's most revered statespeople. 

         As a friend of former Governor Hammond, and someone who immensely respects the work of Mr. Fischer, and as a person who warned against how this law would stifle the public from challenging its own government, I'm not happy. 

         The state and Governor Parnell have the discretion not to pursue fees.  They should drop the lawsuit. 

         Here's what I said in part on the House Floor when this law passed:

         "This bill is about taking away public access to their government, taking away the public’s right to challenge their government’s misconduct....  So, under this bill, if you’re a fisherman and the Department of Natural Resources decides to log the heck out of a fishing stream in violation of the Forest Practices Act, in a way that endangers our fishing populations, and you’re a fishing group and you say: “that’s wrong.  I want to stop the Department of Natural Resources from allowing that logging to occur along the fishing stream,” you’ll no longer have the benefit of this rule.  And you’re going to have to make this decision - shall my non-profit group, shall I stand up and challenge this government conduct at the risk of my life savings?  You’ll probably say no.

         If you’re a hunter - a sport hunter, a subsistence hunter - and the Department of Fish and Game has written unduly restrictive regulations that keep you from hunting for a moose, and let’s say the regulations are unjustified - because sometimes the government does do things that are unjustified - and you say “that’s just plain wrong.” Well, under the law before this legislature changes it, you can challenge that conduct without a threat from the Attorney General’s office.  But if this legislature changes the law by passing this bill, you’re going to get that letter from the Attorney General’s office that’s going to say “you dare challenge this regulation in court, I’m going to collect attorney’s fees from you.  We’re going to win, you’re going to lose, I’m going to collect attorney’s fees.” 

         If an oil company seems to have a lot of sway with the Department of Environmental Conservation, and succeeds in getting the state to agree to a very ineffective oil spill contingency plan, and fishermen and other members of the public decide the law requires a strong oil spill contingency plan, and you say “well, this one’s too weak under the law. I’m going to challenge it in court.” You’re going to be threatened with attorney’s fees. "

- May 15, 2003, House Floor

         And that's what's now happened. First Lady Hammond and Mr. Fischer wanted to make sure the public had a say in the disposal of lands, and the protection of the world's greatest salmon and trout streams. Shame on the state for seeking punishment.

Outstanding Students and Staff and East High

Rep. Gara with East High's culinary students
Rep. Gara with East High’s culinary students

         Last Wednesday I spent the day at East High. I watched an amazing dance troupe. I saw students learning and studying. I and staff were served a great lunch by culinary students. Congratulations to all the students working so hard at that school, and all the staff who are working to help them achieve their dreams. As a state representative I have an obligation to make sure youth have opportunity, and can achieve their dreams. I'll keep pushing for a reversal of four years of damaging education staff cuts, and for affordable, accessible higher education and job training opportunities.

         As always, call if you have any questions. 

Best Regards,

[signed] Les Gara

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