North Pole Republican Representative Tammie Wilson surprised fellow lawmakers and just about everybody else Friday when she announced she’s quitting the 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 this year’s legislative session.
“Today I am formally tendering my letter of resignation from House District 3,” she said in a speech before fellow House members Friday afternoon.
Wilson delivered a double surprise when she told fellow lawmakers that she’s quitting to take a job with the state Office of Children’s Services. That’s the agency she’s tangled with many times during her 10 years in the Legislature, mainly over child-welfare cases.
“As many of you know,” she said, “I have fought cases through the Office of Children’s Services, advocating for families, helping them through it …”
That’s what she was doing back in 2016 when she asked for a grand jury investigation of OCS, over her concern that the agency was increasingly removing children from troubled homes. She told KUAC back then that she’d reviewed records that showed the agency was in some cases violating the law by removing those kids and placing them into foster care.
“They have rules and regulations that they had put in place,” she said in a phone interview. “They had training. What we have found out is that they’re just not following (the law and regulations). And what happens is parents and children are being ripped apart from each other, and have no chance of being reunited.”
On Friday, Wilson told lawmakers that she’ll be taking a job with O-C-S in Fairbanks that’ll enable her to monitor those child-welfare cases.
“There are times (when) the Office of Children’s Services need 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.”
A state Department of Health and Social Services news release issued Friday evening stated that Governor Mike Dunleavy and DHSS 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 OCS 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,” she told her fellow lawmakers.
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, saying she is “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 District3,” Hannan said, “… and I did not expect to find a mentor in her.”
Bethel Democrat Tiffany Zulkosky praised Wilson’s dedication to children issues and her support for legislation that protects the rights of Alaska Native families, like the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.
“I always really loved how much you championed the work of the Tribal Child Welfare Compact, and really believe in ICWA,” Zulkosky said.
Wilson didn’t return calls over the weekend to comment on among other things how much she’ll be paid and when she’ll begin work at the new job. There’s already concerns 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.
Correction: This story was revised to clarify that observers are concerned over the legality of Wilson filling a newly created position in the state's executive branch within a year of leaving the Legislature.