Senate appointee drops out after controversial Facebook comments scrutinized

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker listens during a press availability in June 2017. Walker’s second choice to fill the vacant Senate District E seat withdrew on Thursday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Sutton resident Tom Braund withdrew Thursday from consideration to fill the vacant Senate District E seat, a day after he became Gov. Bill Walker’s second choice for the position.

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The appointment touched off criticism of Braund’s history of social media posts about women, abortion and immigration.

Braund’s posts to Facebook received scrutiny after Walker appointed him.

They include a response to a post in 2017, where Braund said if he “had the reins … abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”

Another post compared women and dogs. Braund didn’t respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.

Jessica Cler works for Planned Parenthood’s lobbying organization in Alaska. She said Walker shouldn’t have appointed Braund.

“I think it’s unacceptable and shocking that someone with a history of disparaging women and making violent remarks about reproductive health care providers would be nominated to fill a vacant Senate seat,” Cler said.

The governor’s staff attempted to steer the criticism to Republicans who rejected Walker’s first choice, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke. Walker said multiple Senate Republicans recommended Kowalke’s appointment.

A new possibility to fill the seat emerged Thursday afternoon. The Republican Party advanced retired Palmer small business owner Vicki Wallner to replace Braund as one of three nominees. Once Walker makes a new appointment to replace Mike Dunleavy, Senate Republicans will decide whether to confirm the person.

The other nominees for the seat were Rep. George Rauscher and teacher Todd Smoldon.

A Walker spokesman said that Rauscher disqualified himself by making light of an alleged violent attack on a woman.

Rauscher said he wasn’t make light of anything. The dispute is over a sign Rauscher posted on his door after he read about an alleged assault by former Rep. Zach Fansler. The sign said Rauscher’s office was a “BDSM-free zone.” Fansler reportedly used the initials in a text to the woman.

Rauscher said the sign wasn’t intended as a joke, but was a message directed at Fansler.

“There was really nobody in the Capitol at all that day,” Rauscher said. “It was on the door for approximately 40 minutes as a statement to the representative across the hall.”

For his part, Smoldon said before Braund withdrew that he could be the only one of the nominees who isn’t disqualified.

But late Thursday, the governor wrote to Republican party leadership that he was rejecting both Rauscher and Smoldon. He asked district Republicans to submit two more names.