Bloated government foe Dan Saddler lands new state job amid constitutional questions

Small government crusader Dan Saddler, defeated in his attempt to move to the state Senate, has succeeded in his quest to land another government job, this one paying almost $100,000.

But there is something in the Alaska Constitution called the “Ineligibility Clause” that must be addressed in Saddler’s case. The question is whether he must wait a year to work in the Dunleavy administration.

Saddler, who has long argued for limited government, has been named to a communications job in the state Department of Natural Resources. He quit the Legislature Friday to move to the executive branch, KTVA reported.

What is missing from this story and just about every other that has appeared in the Alaska media about new hires under Gov. Mike Dunleavy, is any information about salaries. If Dunleavy is serious about budget cuts, he will start at the top.

As an opponent of bloated government, Saddler is hardly the first to sacrifice the chance to work in the private sector so that he can continue to receive a government check and build a better retirement.

His state employment goes back to the defined benefit days and a series of jobs, including one nearly 15 years ago when he worked as a spokesman at DNR in what appears to be nearly the same job he has just been given.

He was deputy press secretary under former Gov. Frank Murkowski and deputy director of boards and commissions under former Gov. Sarah Palin and former Gov, Sean Parnell. He also was a legislative aide for several years.

“I'm a conservative, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business, pro-resource development, small government kind of guy,” Saddler said on his 2018 campaign website.

The small government guy credits his long career in big government to inspiration from the Founding Fathers.

“After my journalism career, I entered public service because I believe our Founding Fathers had it right – free men must step up and govern themselves to protect their God-given rights,” he said on his website.

Speaking of the founders, the authors of the Alaska Constitution included a sentence that limits the ability of legislators to move immediately into jobs in the executive branch. Depending on the details of the job, the restriction might apply in Saddler’s case.

Article II, section 5 says, “During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member.”

There was a similar one-year ban that applied in territorial days as it was part of the Territorial Organic Act of 1912.

Saddler has been a legislator since 2011. In that time the salary for communications workers in the executive branch has been increased.

Over the years there have been different points of view about how strictly the constitutional language should be interpreted. Does the ban apply because Saddler’s first day in the Legislature was in 2011 or should the first day of his most recent term, which began in 2016, signal the start of the constitutional clock? And is this a new job or an old one? The DNR communications staffer lost her job early this week.

The Dunleavy administration says that Saddler’s hiring is legal because the pay for the job, $97,612, has not been increased in the past two years, his most recent term.

In 2010, the hiring of former Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom and former Sen. Gene Therriault to state jobs under Gov. Sean Parnell became a point of contention and both ended up resigning because of the one-year limit.

Republican Ralph Samuels, who ran and lost against Parnell, said at the time: “The point is that you can’t be a member of the administration until a year after you leave office” and “If you have to find ways to get around the Constitution, then you shouldn’t be doing it.”

"You ask how these provisions would affect the eligibility of a former legislator for appointment to an executive branch position created after the legislator resigns from the legislature," a state attorney wrote at the time. "So long as the position did not exist while the legislator was a member of the legislature, these provisions would not bar the appointment of a former legislator."

Dermot Cole7 Comments