ANCHORAGE — A judge on Friday sided with the state of Alaska and ruled against a lawsuit that challenged the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled that an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid. The state argued that invalidating the order would leave the November election in shambles and disenfranchise voters, saying more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out.
“The people of the state of Alaska expect an election,” Suddock said after opposing sides had presented their oral arguments. “They expect to have a choice.”
The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair. Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 order, which permitted candidates affected by the merger to officially withdraw from their respective races.
The order paved the way for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join campaigns with independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor. The state maintained that Alaska statutes are silent on how to fill vacancies left by the withdrawal of a no-party candidate and that the action taken was not only appropriate, but required.
The new ticket is deemed a stronger challenge to Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, who was seeking his second full term in office. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is Parnell’s running mate.
After Friday’s ruling, Strait and his attorney, Ken Jacobus, said they haven’t decided whether they’ll appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. Jacobus said they first need to digest Friday’s ruling.
To form the new ticket with Mallott, Walker dropped his membership in the Alaska Republican Party and reregistered as undeclared, as stipulated by an Alaska Democratic Party committee when it voted to endorse the fused campaigns, called a unity ticket by supporters.
Mallott had been on a ticket with state Senate minority leader Hollis French, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, while Walker originally was running with independent lieutenant governor candidate Craig Fleener. Treadwell’s emergency order allowed French and Fleener to be removed from the ballot.
In his arguments Friday, Jacobus said the lawsuit was not political. He said no real emergency existed to warrant Treadwell’s action. He said any emergency was self-created, and that the candidates could have chosen to both run as independents by collecting the required number of signatures from voters. That’s a rule Walker followed, but Mallott did not in his lieutenant-governor candidacy.
Jacobus said one solution is for Walker to run without a lieutenant governor on the ticket and he could later appoint one if elected. To allow Mallott to be on the ballot would be unconstitutional, Jacobus said.
“Mallott has not been nominated,” he said. “He should not be on the ballot.”
Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said it would make no sense to skip the election of a lieutenant governor and allow a governor to appoint one without any say by voters. At stake are core constitutional values, such as freedom of political association, ballot access, freedom of speech and voters’ rights to choose, she said.
“All of these things are foundations of our democratic system,” Paton-Walsh said. “They require that political candidates be allowed to form coalitions and alliances that serve their interests. That’s the heart of politics.”
Scott Kendall, an attorney for the Walker-Mallott campaign, which intervened in the case on behalf of the state, noted that the delay in filing the lawsuit cannot be excused. He also noted the plaintiff had initially called for the ballot to be restored to a three-way race. Walker and Mallott have been jointly campaigning, raising funds and winning endorsements together, Kendall said.
“How would they separate those funds? How would they account for them?” he said. “The train has left the station.”
After the proceedings, Walker said he was pleased with the decision. But he said he was disappointed to hear for the first time about the idea to remove Mallott from the ballot.
“What a disservice and confusion that would be to the electorate to go to the polls and see that,” he said.
Treadwell, who attended the hearing, said his office is proposing to make the emergency regulation permanent to address the gap in the law. Public comments are now being taken.