ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Board of Game meeting began with a surprise announcement today as Ron Somerville gave up his chairmanship.
Somerville has been under pressure to resign since he made comments in October that offended many Alaska Natives. And for some his gesture today did not go far enough.
"I was approached by some of the board members about continuing as possible chair of the board again and I declined that and I want to say why," Somerville said.
His decision to hand over the gavel stems from comments he made at an October 2006 meeting that were interpreted by many as anti-Native. When some Natives from the Glennallen region failed to appear for testimony, Somerville said:
"Diane Jordan? There must have been a run on free beer or something ... Donna hicks? Ah. Don't like beer, huh, Donna?"
That comment, "Don't like beer, Donna?" appeared on T-shirts at the meeting today. Gov. Sarah Palin twice asked Somerville to resign from the board. Instead, he resigned his chairmanship.
"I was accused of showing some disrespect to the Native community by a statement that I inadvertently made," he said. "I guess if I could go back and take it back because of the problems, I would do that. I did not do it in any form of disrespect toward the Native community."
Somerville's statement lacked an apology and those wearing the T-shirts pointed it out.
"I thought it was a half-hearted attempt to pacify the Native community. I don't think it was an actual apology," said Chistochina resident Liana Engebretson. "I have yet to hear an actual apology for the comments he made at the last meeting and I really believe he should have stepped down completely from the committee, from the board."
Palin determined she does not have the authority to remove Somerville and says she's satisfied with the outcome. She believes a new chairman should clear the cloud the board has been working under since October.
Board vice-chairman Cliff Judkins was elected as the new chair.