By Jenny Neyman
Gov. Bill Walker announced his nominees Tuesday to fill three seats on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, and one of them is back for round two.
Gov. Walker again chose Soldotna’s Robert Ruffner for the board, just a year after the recently retired executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum lost a contentious confirmation battle in the Legislature.
“It was a little bit of a surprise to me because I thought that I needed to wait a year before the governor could put my name back forward, but as it turns out that’s not the case, I can be nominated again,” Ruffner said Tuesday. “And when they called me yesterday I said, ‘Sure.’ Nothing’s changed in my life significantly enough that I wouldn’t be interested in trying to do the best for fisheries across the state, so I’m happy to put my name back in.”
The governor also selected Alan Cain, of Anchorage, and Israel Payton, who grew up in Skwenta and now lives in Wasilla. Cain is a natural resources enforcement adviser and trainer, with a 40-year career as an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, criminal justice planner and private contractor. In that time, he spent 15 years as an enforcement adviser to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, according to the governor’s office.
Payton grew up living a subsistence lifestyle, worked as a hunting and fishing guide in Southcentral and Western Alaska for nearly 20 years, and is a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Fish and Game Advisory Committee. He currently works as a salesman for Airframes Alaska.
The governor’s office notes Ruffner’s experience as an environmental scientist and head of the Kenai Watershed Forum among his qualifications, as well as his positions on the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission and North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission Advisory Panel.
Though Ruffner enjoyed wide and vocal support from municipalities, chambers of commerce, environmental groups, commercial fishermen and private angler organizations, he lost the confirmation vote 30-29 last spring.
Sportfish advocates waged a contentious battle against Ruffner, highlighting particularly his residency outside the state’s main population centers of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys as a mark against him. Ruffner thinks the situation this time is much different.
“There were some pretty high-level things that were going on with the board chairman and with what happened with Roland Maw. (I was) coming in on the heels of that. So I think that that anxiety has calmed down a little bit. And I just hope that this process will be a little bit smoother,” Ruffner said.
Last year, Gov. Walker announced he wouldn’t reappoint previous board Chair Karl Johnstone, who came from a sportfishing background. Walker selected Roland Maw, former head of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, as his replacement. But Maw withdrew his name after charges came to light that he had illegally obtained resident fishing and hunting licenses in Montana while still claiming Alaska residency. Ruffner was chosen in Maw’s stead. When he lost the confirmation vote, Bob Mumford was appointed on an interim basis, and has recently announced his resignation.
Current board Chair Tom Kluberton has also announced his resignation, and Walker decided to replace board member Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, as well.
Ruffner thinks that being part of a batch of three appointees will make the confirmation process easier, especially with one being from Anchorage and another living in Wasilla.
“So that dynamic of having three different board members coming up from different locations, that may help relieve some people’s tension,” he said.
Ruffner said he doesn’t expect to spend as much time in Juneau this go-around as he did last year, since he feels like legislators know him now. Other than that, he doesn’t plan to alter his presentation.
“I didn’t walk away from that process feeling like I lost or that I did something that wouldn’t make me a viable candidate,” he said. “I don’t really intend to approach it any differently. I’ll just need to wait and see if people still have the same concerns or if there are different concerns with a new set of nominees. But I do have the sense that the playing field is quite a bit different this year than it was last year. So I don’t see any reason for me not to be as consistent as I possibly can.”
If confirmed, Ruffner said he plans to continue to have an open mind, not be swayed by politics or user groups and make the best, most informed decisions he can.
“I’m hoping to be the person I’ve always been in this community and do my best to be objective and hear the points of view that are coming to the board, and then render the fairest decision in a way that’s clear to people, that they understand what my thinking was,” he said.
Walker also nominated veteran hunting guide Guy Trimmingham, of Hope, to the Board of Game, and reappointed Nathan Turner, a trapper from Nenana.