Walker pick for Senate seat withdraws

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 10:05pm
  • News

JUNEAU — A man nominated by Gov. Bill Walker to fill an open Alaska Senate seat withdrew from consideration Thursday, less than a day after his appointment, after his fitness for office was questioned and past statements on abortion drew condemnation.

In an email to Walker, Thomas Braund cited personal reasons for his decision. He said he has a friend with needs and he is her provider. Braund apologized to Walker “for any disappointment I may have caused.”

Walker will now get a third opportunity to try to replace Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, who resigned last month to run for governor. The process so far has been politically fraught.

Under state law, those appointed for legislative vacancies must be from the party of their predecessor. When a vacancy occurs, parties traditionally send a list of names to the governor for consideration.

A governor isn’t bound to the list, though the appointment is subject to confirmation, in this case, by Senate Republicans.

Walker insisted his initial pick, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Randall Kowalke, was the best candidate. But Kowalke wasn’t on the GOP list of finalists and Republicans saw the pick as an affront to their process, rejecting his nomination.

Walker responded late Wednesday by selecting Braund, one of three finalists advanced by Republicans in Senate District E. The other finalists were Rep. George Rauscher and Todd Smoldon.

Walker, a one-time Republican no longer affiliated with a political party, offered no endorsement of Braund, but said he believed Senate Republicans “will continue to reject anyone I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person’s name is on the list provided to me by the Republican Party.”

The appointment was condemned by Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner over a reference to violence toward abortion providers that Braund apparently made on social media.

A screenshot of a post under Braund’s name, captured by KTOO Public Media, says that if he “had the reins … abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out. Oh, I forgot, they don’t have hearts.” The post was no longer visible.

“I always reach out and warmly greet every new legislator when they come to the Capitol, no matter the political differences, but I cannot even imagine the desire to shake this man’s hand,” Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat, said in a statement, adding that Braund “has clearly demonstrated he is not suitable to be part of this institution.”

Braund did not immediately respond to a message sent by The Associated Press seeking comment via Facebook.

Walker’s chief of staff, Scott Kendall, said questions about Braund’s fitness and qualifications should be directed to the Republican party, “who did vet Mr. Braund and, by vote, endorsed his beliefs as acceptable to them,” and to Senate Republicans, whom he said “specifically requested such a Party-approved nominee.”

Republicans “now have the nominee they demanded,” he said.

Senate Republicans urged Walker to go back to the district for more names if the initial list was unacceptable to him.

State GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said he was “shocked” that of the three nominations, Walker felt Braund was the best choice, citing the qualifications and activities of the other two. He said Braund is known for “hard-right posts on Facebook.”

Kendall said Walker “absolutely does not endorse any of the three nominees” sent to him by the party, including Braund.

Walker spokesman Austin Baird said Rauscher “made light of a violent attack against a woman,” which he said was disqualifying.

A political blog last month posted a picture of a sign on Rauscher’s Capitol office door that said “BDSM Free Zone.”

That followed a report in the Juneau Empire, in which a woman accused former Democratic state Rep. Zach Fansler of hitting her so hard it ruptured an eardrum. The paper cited a text from Fansler to the woman that referenced “BDSM,” or sexual fetishes. Fansler has not been charged.

Rauscher on Thursday said that after reading the story, “I made a statement that hiding behind BDSM as a reason for hitting a woman is wrong.”

He said later that Walker never asked him about it.

Babcock on Thursday forwarded Walker the name of an additional candidate for the seat, Vicki Chaffin Wallner. In his letter to Walker, Babcock said she finished fourth in the original balloting of candidates.

Kendall said Walker has also rejected Rauscher and Smoldon, and asked Babcock in a Thursday letter to submit the names of two more GOP candidates to be considered alongside Wallner.

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