Anchorage, Alaska - The chorus calling for Alaska Board of Game chairman Ron Somerville (left) to resign his position is growing louder. Somerville has been accused of making disparaging remarks directed at Alaska Natives by prominent members of that community. Somerville countered that it is a politically-motivated attack to remove him from the board.
The comments in question came at a Board of Game meeting in October. Somerville had just called on the third person to testify who wasn't there. All three were Alaska Natives.
"Diane Jordan? There must have been a run on free beer or something. Donna Hicks? Ah. Don't like beer, huh, Donna?" said Somerville.
Since Somerville made those remarks, a growing number of Native organizations, including the Alaska Federation of Natives, have asked Gov. Frank Murkowski to demand Somerville's resignation.
"The insensitiveness and the so-called joke about free-running beer is not something we in rural Alaska appreciate, especially when it's directed to the Native community," said Myron Naneng of the Association of Village Council Presidents.
Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, believes Somerville committed a Freudian slip by publicly acknowledging private beliefs about Natives and alcoholism.
"I think a lot of people have feelings they don't normally show, and once in a while they slip out. I think this is one of those times that it slipped out," Kookesh said.
Somerville said his attempt at humor and to break the tension was taken out of context. He apologizes to those he offended, but said the calls for him to step down are politically motivated by those who don't like his position.
"I'm becoming a victim out of this thing, rather than what I'm being accused of, which is making other people victims," Somerville said.
Among those calling for his resignation is Gov.-elect Sarah Palin, who supports many of the same issues as Somerville.
"I would think that he could see the writing on the wall with that cloud cast over the board's work, impeding some action there. It's probably in the board's best interest also for him to voluntarily step aside," said Palin (right).
A spokesman for Murkowski said the administration is leaving the matter up to the board itself.
Meanwhile, Somerville reiterated that he is not going anywhere.
When asked whether he would step down at the request of Murkowski or Palin, Somerville said "that depends."
"Right now, I'm not going to retire from the board and I'm not going to step down," he said.
State law says the governor can only remove board members for specific reasons. The law mentions inefficiency, neglect of duty or misconduct in office.
It's unknown whether Somerville's remarks fall under those definitions.