North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson surprised fellow lawmakers on Friday, when she announced she’s quitting the Alaska Legislature to take a job with a state agency that she’s often fought against during her 10 years in the state House.
Wilson’s announcement came at the end of the first week of the legislative session.
“Today I am formally tendering my letter of resignation from House District 3,” Wilson said.
Wilson is quitting to take a job with the state Office of Children’s Services. That’s the agency she’s tangled with many times, mainly over child-welfare cases.
“As many of you know, I have fought cases through the Office of Children’s Services, advocating for families, helping them through it,” she said.
That’s what Wilson was doing in 2016 when she asked for a grand jury investigation of the Office of Children’s Services, over her concern that the agency was increasingly removing children from troubled homes. She said she had reviewed records that showed the agency was in some cases violating the law by removing kids and placing them in foster care.
“They have rules and regulations that they had put in place. They had training. What we have found out is that they’re just not following (the law). And what happens is parents and children are being ripped apart from each other, and have no chance of being reunited,” she said.
On Friday, Wilson told lawmakers that she’ll be working at the office in Fairbanks, which will enable her to monitor those child welfare cases.
“There are times (when) the Office of Children’s Services needs to step in. But most of the time, we just need to surround our families with the resources that they truly need. And that’s the opportunity that I’ve been given,” she said.
A state Department of Health and Social Services news release issued Friday evening stated that Gov. Mike Dunleavy and department Commissioner Adam Crum had created a policy adviser role in the commissioner’s office, and named Wilson to the new post. The release says Wilson will, “act as a parent resource and help support family resiliency, by helping families navigate the child-welfare system and by working with (the Office of Children’s Services) on positive reform.”
“My biggest goal here is not just to help parents through the system, but try to get it so they’re not in the system,” Wilson said.
House members followed Wilson’s announcement with bipartisan bonhomie, regaling her with tributes, like House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent, who singled-out her work ethic and called her “perhaps one of the hardest working – if not the hardest working – legislator.”
Others, like Juneau Democrat Sara Hannan, praised the conservative Republican’s willingness to work with members of the other party on some issues.
“I represent a district that’s very different from House District 3. And I did not expect to find a mentor in her,” Hannan said.
Still others, like Bethel Democrat Tiffany Zulkosky, praised her dedication to children’s issues and her support for legislation that protects the rights of Alaska Native families, like the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
“I always really loved how much you championed the work of the Tribal Child Welfare Compact, and really believe in ICWA,” she told Wilson.
Wilson didn’t return calls Saturday to comment on how much she’ll be paid and when she’ll begin the new job. There’s already concern among some legal observers over whether state law allows an ex-legislator to fill a newly created job in the executive branch within a year of leaving the Legislature.
As for her vacant seat, state law requires the governor to appoint a person of the same political affiliation within 30 days of a lawmaker’s departure. The state GOP requires local party officials to send a list of prospective replacements to the governor.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the legal concerns are specifically about an ex-legislator filling a newly created job in the executive branch within a year of leaving the Legislature.