Voices of Alaska: Who vets the candidates?

  • By Gail Phillips
  • Wednesday, April 23, 2014 5:27pm
  • Opinion

In spite of the fact that Alaska is on equal footing with all other states in the Union regarding the number of representatives we can send to the U.S. Senate, history has shown that we Alaskans and our Alaskan political parties rarely responsibly vet our candidates running for this office. Other states put their candidates for national office through rigorous vetting procedures. We don’t seem to.

The original purpose of the political-party system was to provide a forum for like-minded people to adopt a general platform of beliefs, make nominations for elected offices, and support the members of their respective party who are elected to office.

The political parties had the responsibility of vetting candidates who ran for office using the party’s title. Unless a candidate could assure the members of the organization that they would be the best candidate to represent that party’s ideology, they would not get the endorsement or the party support. Unfortunately, this is no longer the practice.

Today, anyone can run for office, declaring whatever political affiliation they desire. Candidates show up on the scene sporting a good-looking resume, making bold statements and raising large amounts of money. Too often party loyalists become like lap dogs falling in line to support that candidate.

In recent years, Republicans have done a disastrous job of responsibly vetting candidates running for state and national office. In 2010 Joe Miller from Fairbanks walked right through the Primary process before any vetting was done regarding his history and campaign rhetoric. A majority of Republicans voted for him and it wasn’t until after the Primary election, when countless discrepancies in his record were exposed by the media, did his campaign go into melt-down mode and the Republican nominee lost a historic defeat to a write-in candidate. Responsible vetting by the Party would have prevented all of the turmoil the Republican Party went through that year.

Another case in point was John Lindauer’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998. This may have been the saddest example of lack of “quality control” by the Republican Party ever. Mr. Lindauer was a good-looking candidate with a good-looking resume and a fist full of cash. Unfortunately, the powers that be within the party structure didn’t vet his candidacy, didn’t verify where his money was coming from, and had no means of preventing him for running using the Republican label. Soon after the Primary election, which he won, it was exposed that the money for his campaign wasn’t actually his but rather had been illegally transferred to him by his wealthy wife, a Chicago lawyer. Alaskans and Republicans turned against him and of course, the Republicans lost that election. If only the Party had responsibly vetted his candidacy, we wouldn’t have gone through the turmoil we endured in that election.

As a life-long Republican, I am only addressing this serious problem in the Republican Party, but over the years I’ve witnessed the same problems affecting the Democrat Party as well.

Now — we are four months away from another Primary election. We have to ask ourselves if the Party has responsibly vetted the three candidates who are running on the Republican ticket for the U.S. Senate Race, or are we in for another disastrous surprise following the outcome of the Primary election?

Has the Republican Party addressed all the questions that came up following Joe Miller’s last Primary election victory? Has he satisfactorily restored the confidence — or lack thereof — in the Party electorate? Can we now overlook all the negative issues following that election?

Has the Party addressed former Attorney General Dan Sullivan’s record on gun control issues? When in 2010, as the State’s Attorney General Dan came out against Mark Neuman’s 2010 ‘Stand your Ground Law’ saying that it would “encourage unnecessary violence.” Do we, as Republicans, not think that Senator Begich will use everything he can, such as this point, to win the Race? While he served as Attorney General, it was revealed that AG Sullivan’s prosecutors were reducing charges against convicted sex offenders. His office defended this practice by saying the Department had limited resources and this was not a priority. Has the Party examined Dan’s apparent “softness” on issues regarding domestic violence when he was in a position to come down hard on these types of crimes? These are real issues, and without the party doing the legwork on vetting, it seems only appropriate to bring them up now before we must learn about them after the Primary.

As a Republican, I want to know what measure of responsibility my Party is taking to make certain we send our best candidate forward to the General Election in November. Since the trend these days is that anyone can run for office without restriction, and adopt the persona and title of the Party, I have very little confidence that the Party is going to do anything to vet the qualifications, background or history of our Republican candidates. This ultimately leaves it up to us as individuals to take on this responsibility for our State.

Gail Phillips is a former Alaska legislator and member of the Treadwell Campaign Advisory Committee.

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