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Alaska Natives object to Palin’s attorney general nominee

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Within a week of Gov. Sarah Palin announcing her nominee for Alaska’s attorney general, two Alaska Native organizations passed resolutions objecting her choice; both strongly oppose the appointment of Warren Anthony Ross.

The Alaska Federation of Natives meeting in Anchorage and the Association of Village Council Presidents, representing Western Alaska villages, convening in Bethel sited similar objections, saying that Ross has opposed subsistence rights and other important Alaska Native interests. In 1989 Ross served as co-counsel for the legal team that overturned the state’s rural-preference law for subsistence hunting and fishing on the grounds that Alaska’s state constitution granted equal access to fish and game to all state residents. He has also been quoted as having referred to Native sovereignty as an outdated 19th century concept.

News reports include negative responses from other well-known Alaska Native community members like Native American Rights Fund’s Heather Kendall Miller, who said the choice of Ross is a reflection on Palin. Miller said the governor chose someone who represents her own values rather than choosing someone who has the right experience for the job. According to Anchorage Daily News blog “The Village,” Miller also stated that Palin has “shown no interest in trying to work with the Native community on important issues of subsistence or tribal sovereignty.”

In an Anchorage Daily News article, Palin depicted the objections to Ross as coming from “a few vocal critics [who] view anyone who may have a different opinion as they do as being unfit for public service for all Alaskans.”

Ross’ response is that most of what people are saying about him comes from a different time in the state’s history, and that he is ready and willing to serve all the citizens of the state and to work to end the “rural-urban” divide. Ross only knew he was being considered for the appointment a few days before the governor’s announcement March 26. Palin said she chose Ross for his vast legal knowledge, experience, integrity and record of public service.

Palin and Ross have an established working relationship. Ross served on her gubernatorial campaign committee and represented her in an ethics complaint against fellow Republican Randy Ruedrich before she ran for governor. Ross also holds an elected office in the National Rifle Association and has been active in the Republican Party and politics since 1960 when he worked his father’s campaigns for alderman in Wisconsin.

Ross made two failed bids for the governor’s office himself, in 1998 and 2002. Much has been made of the fact that he is known around Anchorage for his bright red Hummer with vanity plates sporting his initials – WAR. He is listed on the Justia Legal Services and Lawyers Web site as practicing in the areas of car accidents and personal injury law. The Ross and Miner law firm’s site includes a wider range of services and states that Ross served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska beginning in 1968. From 1969 to 1973 he served as the court trustee and standing master for the family court. In 1973 Ross went into private practice.

Palin chose Ross to replace Talis Colberg who resigned without notice in early February. Colberg’s resignation came shortly after he was chastised by the Alaska State Legislature for advising Palin’s husband and members of her administration that they were not required to respond to legislative subpoenas issued as part of the Troopergate investigation which questioned the governor’s possible misuse of power in efforts to get a former brother-in-law fired from his job as an Alaska State Trooper.

The investigation began in July 2008 with the blessings of the governor, but became a political hot potato after she was chosen as the vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket at the end of August. The Alaska Supreme Court later ruled the subpoenas to be valid. Colberg was also the head of the governor’s Rural Subcabinet, which was tasked with looking into concerns about conditions in rural Alaska and Alaska Native villages.

There was no response to a request from the governor’s office asking how she might lay to rest the concerns of Alaska Natives about Ross’ nomination to such a high position in state government. Ross must still be confirmed by the Alaska State Legislature.