An officer of the Alaska Republican Party is suing the Division of Elections for the decision to allow independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott to merge their campaigns.
The complaint describes the decision by the Democratic Party pull their candidate and allow him to become Walker’s running mate on a non-party ticket was a matter of “procrastination, political strategy, and political expediency.” On that basis, the complaint argues that Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell should not have issued a September 2 emergency regulation to approve the ticket and change the composition of the November general election ballot.
Plaintiff Steve Strait filed the lawsuit in Superior Court on Wednesday. His objective is to prevent Walker and Mallot from appearing on the ballot as a combined non-party ticket. While Strait serves as a district chair for the Republican Party, he says this is not an official party action.
“I’m filing this as an individual,” says Strait. “As a longtime Alaskan, I am very concerned about what just happened here on September 2 with this decision, with this emergency regulation from the lieutenant governor’s office, and how it influences elections from here forward.”
Strait says Democratic voters were disenfranchised when they voted for Mallott as their nominee in the primary. He believes the decision for Walker and Mallott to form what they’re calling a “unity ticket” was a matter of gamesmanship to improve the chances of beating incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and to attract support from the state’s labor unions.
The rationale behind the lawsuit was explained at a hastily organized press conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel that was attended by Strait, attorney Ken Jacobus, and Republican Party Vice Chair Frank McQueary. McQueary dismissed any question about the political motivation of the complaint. While not a party to the lawsuit, McQueary identified himself as a supporter of its objective, and said he was disappointed that the endorsement of the AFL-CIO was a catalyst for the Democratic Party to withdraw Mallott’s name from the gubernatiorial race and allow him to run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.
“The theatre here, of course, is the drama of the AFL-CIO forging this marriage of opposites and combining two losers and coming out with what they think is a winner,” said McQueary.
But Walker thinks it’s Republican Party leadership that is playing games. Walker questions the timing of the lawsuit, which comes shortly after a Hays Group poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO found him eight points ahead of Parnell.
“If we were 15 points down in the polls, I don’t think this suit would have been filed,” says Walker.
Walker is still deciding whether join the lawsuit as an intervenor in support of Treadwell and Fenumiai. He adds that his campaign reviewed the legality of joining tickets before appealing to Lt. Gov. Treadwell, and that there was precedent from 2006 when independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro replaced a running mate who suffered health problems.
Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar says the state will defend itself against the lawsuit. She says that the legal question does not center on the reasons for the candidate substitution – whether they be health-related or politically calculated – but the timing of the election itself.
“The point they’re missing I think is that the emergency, regardless of the origins that creates it, is that we have an election in 50 days, and so the emergency has to do with the timing. That’s a neutral fact,” says Bakalar. “It’s not the Division of Elections responsibility to decide how [party] decisions are made, or to say that these decisions can’t be made. It their job to run an orderly election, and they can’t do that without acting quickly when these kinds of things come up.”
The Division of Elections has already begun printing ballots for November, and the cost of producing them is estimated at $300,000. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says the process is half complete.
The case has been assigned to Judge John Suddock, and the parties are requesting that the process be expedited because of the pending election.