Judge says independents can run in Democratic primary

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Tuesday, October 17, 2017 10:04pm
  • News

JUNEAU — A state court judge in Alaska on Tuesday sided with Democrats seeking to allow independent candidates to run in their party primaries.

In a written decision Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said by not allowing unaffiliated candidates to participate in Democratic primaries, the state is restricting the party’s attempt to appeal to independent voters.

The decision comes in a case brought against the state by the Alaska Democratic Party — and, if it stands, it could have implications for next year’s elections.

The party challenged a state law requiring primary election candidates to be registered members of the party whose nomination they’re seeking.

Democrats asked that the law be considered unconstitutional to the extent that it restricts candidate participation to registered members when political party rules allow for non-member candidates.

Politically unaffiliated voters — those labeled as “undeclared” or “nonpartisan” — comprise the largest voting bloc in the state. Anyone, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in the Democratic primary.

Pallenberg wrote that, by limiting the party primary to registered Democrats, the state interferes with the Democrats’ chosen strategy to broaden its support in the general election.

The decision could be appealed. State Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said by email that the state is reviewing the decision.

Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said the decision could have a long-term, positive impact on the party. “This was always done with the long game in mind,” he said of the party’s challenge.

A prior challenge to the law by Democrats was tossed as premature last year because it was brought before the Democrats formally adopted a party rule seeking to allow politically unaffiliated candidates to run in its primaries.

This case looms over a coming election year set to feature the governor’s race and legislative seats.

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott won the support of Democratic Party leaders in 2014 in banding together to upset Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell.

In teaming up, Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared and Mallott, a Democrat who had won his party’s nomination for governor, put aside that ambition to be Walker’s running mate. Mallott remained a Democrat.

Walker and Mallott in August announced plans for re-election. Walker said at that time they planned make an independent run and collect signatures necessary to qualify for next year’s ballot.

When asked if they would consider running in the Democratic party if allowed, Walker in August said things sometimes change during an election process and “we typically don’t say never to anything, quite honestly.”

“But this is the path that we have chosen” and having a bipartisan administration has served Alaska well, he said at that time.

Walker campaign spokeswoman, Lindsay Hobson, said Tuesday that Walker and Mallott did not have a comment on the court decision.

Walker and Mallott have an ongoing duty to uphold the state’s laws, Hobson said. “Since this is a pending legal matter to which the State is a party, the candidates cannot comment at this time,” she said in a text.

State Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said he was delighted that Pallenberg ruled “in favor of freedom and freedom of association.”

Republicans and Democrats should be allowed to decide who can run in and vote in their respective primaries, Babcock said. He plans to ask his party’s rules committee to look at the state GOP’s rules and “how we might address additional opportunities,” he said.

More in News

Bradley Walters leads the pack up Angle Hill on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at the Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Summer races kick off at Tsalteshi

The annual Salmon Run Series 5K races start on July 6 and continue every Wednesday through Aug. 3

Central Emergency Services staff wait to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly mulls bond for new CES fire station

Replacement of the current station is estimated to cost $16.5 million

Buldozers sit outside of the former Kenai Bowling Alley on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Old Kenai bowling alley comes down

The business closed in 2015

Landslide debris surrounds part of Lowell Point Road on Friday, June 3, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly looks to mitigate future Lowell Point Road dangers

Assembly members approved legislation supporting agencies working to address the “repetitive hazards”

The Alaska Department of Health And Social Services building in Juneau has no visible signs indicating the department is splitting into two agencies as of Friday. Top officials at the department said many of the changes, both physical and in services, are likely weeks and in some cases months away. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Little sign of big change for DHSS

No commissioner at new department, other Department of Health and Social Services changes may take months

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Most Read