Candidate Armstrong, Division of Elections move to toss eligibility lawsuit over timing
The Armstrong campaign, in its filing, called the whole lawsuit a "campaign stunt."
It’s Monday, Alaska!
In this edition: We’re still waiting on the latest drop of election results to come out tomorrow, but absentee ballots and ranked-choice voting tabulations aren’t the only thing that’ll determine the shape of the next Alaska Legislature. There’s also two separate lawsuits challenging the eligibility of candidates to hold office. The one challenging Rep. David Eastman is set to go to trial in December while the other challenging Democrat Jennie Armstrong—who’s poised to win a House seat in west Anchorage—is still in the early stages. Let’s talk about the latter case and the latest motions from Armstrong’s legal team and the Division of Alaska to dismiss the suit… and why even if they get their way that likely won’t be the end of it. Also, Anchorage Assemblymember Austin Quinn-Davidson—whose term included eight months as acting mayor—announced she’s not running for re-election. Dunleavy announces cabinet pieces. And the reading list.
Current mood: 🥶
Candidate Armstrong, Division of Elections move to toss eligibility lawsuit as ‘campaign stunt’
The Alaska Division of Elections and Democratic legislative candidate Jennie Armstrong, who is poised to win a House seat in west Anchorage, have both filed to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Armstrong’s eligibility to hold office.
In filings from earlier this month, both argue the complaint—which was brought by four Anchorage residents who’ve all contributed to Armstrong’s Republican opponent—was brought outside the established windows for such a challenge and should have to wait until the election is completed.
Armstrong currently leads in the race for House District 16 with 3,491 votes or 53.44% of the vote to Republican Liz Vazquez’s 3,027 votes or 46.33% of the vote. The state reports another 1,148 generally left-leaning absentee and early ballots have been returned but have yet to be counted. The next results update is expected on Tuesday.
The lawsuit mirrors claims first circulated by the Alaska Landmine, relying on a handful of social media posts and fishing license applications to suggest Armstrong doesn’t meet the residency requirement to hold office in Alaska. The Alaska Constitution requires candidates live in Alaska for three years before filing for office.
It’s the second high-profile lawsuit challenging a candidate’s eligibility, but unlike the case facing far-right Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman—where the state argued the Division of Elections has no mechanism to enforce the state’s disloyalty clause—the state has clearly outlined procedures for challenging a candidate’s residency status.
State law allows for challenges to a candidate’s eligibility 10 days after the candidate filing deadline in June or after the election is completed through an election contest.
“Plaintiffs should know that this challenge was clearly filed both too late and too early, and that their suit is therefore not a legitimate use of the courts,” argues the filing made by Armstrong’s attorney, Scott Kendall. “If this case was meant to challenge Armstrong’s eligibility to appear on the ballot, (state law) required such a challenge to be filed by June 11, 2022. If this case is meant to challenge to Armstrong’s qualification to be seated as a legislator, it cannot be filed until she is certified as the winner, assuming she wins the race. Instead, Plaintiffs curiously filed this case on October 31, while early voting had already begun, and just over one week before election day.”
And, as has been the case with all kinds of legal action heading into election day, Armstrong’s team calls shenanigans on the entire lawsuit for its timing.
“It is beyond dispute that this challenge is procedurally defective as filed. So why was this case filed? For one reason: to serve as a late-breaking campaign stunt intended to misinform voters and disrupt Armstrong’s campaign for office. It will not work,” they write. “And this Court should not reward Plaintiffs’ misuse of the legal system by attempting to find some way to reach the merits of a case that has none.”
The state, using somewhat softer language, makes essentially the same argument in its filing, arguing that not only is the plaintiffs’ timing off but that they’ve failed to meet several requirements needed for the court to put the certification of the election on hold.
“The Court also lacks jurisdiction because this election contest is not yet ripe in that we do not yet know whether Ms. Armstrong will win the election,” the state said in its filing. “There is no such thing as an election contest to disqualify a defeated candidate.”
The state also notes several factual inaccuracies in the lawsuit—which was filed by residents Chris Duke, Randy Eledge, Steve Strait and Kathryn Werdahl—including the assumption that if Armstrong is ultimately disqualified that the governor will get to pick a replacement. The state notes that under the election contest, a judge could also order an entirely new election.
“If Ms. Armstrong wins but a court rules in an election contest that she is not qualified, it will have broad discretion to fashion an appropriate remedy, including the authority to order the Division to re-certify the election for the runner-up candidate or to order a new election,” argues the state. “The result would not be that the governor would appoint a representative for House District 16.”
Republican attorney Stacey Stone, who is representing the four plaintiffs, responded in a filing on Friday that the case isn’t an election challenge but rather a challenge under the Alaska Constitution’s eligibility clause that should be able tobe heard at any time. She also argues against the need to file an election contest, which would require 10 people or a losing candidate to file.
“This is not an election contest, this is a challenge to Intervenor’s constitutional qualifications to sit as a member of the state legislature,” Stone argues in the plaintiffs’ filing, later adding, “It would also be in the interest of judicial economy to allow for adjudication without having to also possibly contest the election.”
In closing, Stone reiterates the claim that the governor would be left to decide who holds the seat (where he would be limited to selecting a Democrat who could get approval from other legislators).
“There exists a very real risk that Intervenor – a person who is not constitutionally qualified to sit in the state legislature – will win an election, will have that election certified, and will be sworn-in,” the filing argues. “To the voters of House District 16, this is a great and irreparable harm which will most likely force the voters of said house district to cede their power to choose their own member of the state house to the governor.”
A reply from the Division of Elections and Armstrong’s legal team is due before the judge will be able to rule on the motion to dismiss.
A dismissal, of course, would leave the door open for a lawsuit contesting the election. It’s a process that Stone has some experience with from her time as the attorney who worked former Rep. Lance Pruitt’s attempt to overturn his 11-vote defeat in 2020.
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Anchorage Assembly’s Austin Quinn-Davidson won’t run for re-election
Anchorage Assemblymember Austin Quinn-Davidson, a progressive who represents west Anchorage, announced today she won’t run for re-election next spring, clearing the way for new candidates to get underway with campaigning.
Quinn-Davidson’s time in office also includes an eight-month stint as the city’s acting mayor following the resignation of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in late 2020. After many long nights of contentious meetings and loads of work sessions, she says she’s looking forward to spending time with her young family.
“The decision not to run for re-election is one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make. I love this job—the challenges, the rewards, the scope of the issues I have the privilege of working on, the people I am able to strategize and solve problems with, and the ability to make a real difference in my neighbors’ lives,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter. “There is no other role quite like being an assembly member, and I know I will miss it greatly. But I have a new family member—a happy, curious 5-month-old son—and I want to spend more time with him and my wife at such a special time for our family.”
Six assembly seats are scheduled be on the ballot on April 4, 2023, which is half of the Anchorage Assembly’s membership (now that it’s been expanded to 12). An additional seat, currently held by Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar, would likely be added to that slate as long as his lead in the race for the Alaska Legislature holds.
Under municipal code, the Anchorage Assembly may fill vacancies by appointment and add those seats to the regular election slate. That’d mean Dunbar’s East Anchorage seat—as well as the Eagle River seat Assemblymember Jamie Allard, who is also set to win a seat in the Alaska House but would have been up for election this spring—could be filled by assembly appointment once they’re both seated.
Far-right Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has also announced his plans to run for re-election in 2024.
Dunleavy announces cabinet changes
It looks like things are full speed ahead for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who currently holds an outright majority in the gubernatorial election and will almost certainly win it even if the remaining ballots don’t go his way.
Today, he announced he has appointed Adam Crum—the former Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner and former Department of Health Commissioner—as the new Department of Revenue Commissioner. Crum was instrumental in Gov. Dunleavy’s unilateral decision to split the Department of Health and Social Services into two separate divisions over concerns about how much it’d cost and how it’d impact the delivery of services.
He will need legislative confirmation for the new role.
Division of Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg, who’s been working with the state since 2009, will fill in as acting director for the Department of Health. The governor also announced that Tyson Gallagher, a longtime staffer who worked for five years as the head of GCI’s government relations, will serve as his Chief of Staff.
As someone who built much of his career on Twitter, this is a really interesting story about what California political Twitter is doing/feeling about the whole Elon Musk thing. From the Sacramento Bee: As Twitter continues to melt down, California’s Capitol political class wonders where to go
From Alaska Public Media: Anchorage lawmakers ask FTC to block Kroger-Albertsons merger