I doubt anyone could have predicted how crazy the Senate Seat E appointment process was going to be. A lot has happened in the last week, and even more has been said about it. There are two conversations happening – one between insiders and one between everyone else. As someone who lives in both worlds, I want to provide my take on all of it.
Where It Began
On 1/16/2018 the Republicans of Senate District E (House 9 and 10) met to select three names to submit to Governor Walker to fill Mike Dunleavy’s senate seat. Dunleavy resigned from the senate in order to focus on his gubernatorial campaign (against Walker if Dunleavy wins the primary). I attended that meeting and wrote an article about it – Republicans Choose Three Names for Gov. Walker to Fill Dunleavy Seat.
The three names were George Rauscher, Todd Smoldon, and Tom Braund.
The article summarizes the meeting but, needless to say, it was rather bizarre. Fast forward a month and it turns out that Walker chose a person who wasn’t even on the list, Randall Kowalke. Kowalke put his name forward at the January 16 meeting but was not chosen as one of the top three. But Walker decided that he was the best choice to represent the district. Many thought Walker would choose Representative George Rauscher but a “BDSM FREE ZONE” sticker appeared on his office door in Juneau after the Zach Fansler mess. That did not seem to help his case.
The Republicans were not at all happy Walker didn’t choose someone from their list. Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock actually compared Walker to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Then, Senate Republicans rejected Kowalke. Once the governor selects someone to fill a vacant seat, they need to be confirmed by the members of the political party in the body they are going to serve in. In this case the Senate Republicans.
Kowalke is on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly and seems to be a reasonable person. But Senate Republicans were not going to accept someone Walker sent them who didn’t come from the district. Traditionally, the governor chooses a name from a list sent by the party of the vacating member. But there is no law that says the governor has to do so, only that they must choose someone from the party of the vacated seat.
What Happened Next
Here is where it starts getting interesting. Now that Kowalke was rejected, and Rauscher was not going to get picked, the obvious choice was Todd Smoldon. Smoldon is a teacher and seems to be a reasonable person. He also has a killer mullet. But before anyone could blink, Walker sent Tom Braund over. Few knew anything about him. Once people started looking they were, well, surprised. Turns out Braund has some pretty extreme views. His Facebook posts ranged from advocating killing abortion doctors by cutting their hearts out with scissors to sharing a picture of the Standard Oil logo with a swastika behind it.
Many were shocked that Walker would choose Braund, especially his progressive supporters. Why did he? Most likely to give the senate exactly what they wanted, someone from the list. This put the senate in a very difficult position – reject someone they asked for or confirm someone they definitely don’t want in the senate. A great trolling move but probably not the best political move. Most people did not understand the nuance and assumed Walker had lost it. (I got several recommendations he be This Week’s Loose Unit)
The truth is Braund should have never been on that list. I don’t know him but my take is that he is like that crazy uncle or grandpa a lot of us have. He’s a retired law enforcement officer and first responder and probably not the evil person he has been portrayed as. He did not need to be dragged through all of this; he was never going to be a senator. What does this say about the Alaska Republican Party for submitting his name to the governor? Once he was chosen, Republicans scrambled to get him to withdraw so they would not have to deal with the fallout. It’s a shame they let all of this happen to him.
One thing the Republicans have been saying over and over again is that the three names submitted to the governor represented what the district wanted. I was at the meeting. The names represented what 30-40 of the most politically active Republicans in the district wanted. Only Republican district officials could participate. If the Republicans in the district would have voted, the three names would have likely been Rauscher/Kowalke/Colver or Rauscher/Kowalke/Grasser. Representative David Eastman was at the meeting and extremely involved in the process. I hear he was actively involved in it leading up to the meeting. Did Eastman want Braund on the list? Why was he so involved in the process?
The whole thing has turned into a circus because of partisanship. The Republicans want to fight Walker every chance they get. Walker is tired of dealing with them so he decided to mess with them by giving them exactly what they asked for. This seemed to have backfired. The relationship between Walker and Senate Republicans is probably as bad as it has ever been.
Now the Alaska Republican Party has submitted Vicki Chaffin Wallner. She was not one of the original three but was in the top five at the meeting. All I know about her is she founded the Facebook group “STOP VALLEY THIEVES” and seems to be really unhappy with SB91. I reached out to her to chat but she did not get back to me. Todd Smoldon is also still a name the governor can consider.
The Republicans should have been more careful in the names they sent to Walker. Walker should not have appointed Braund, although I understand why he did. This is unfortunately how bad things are in Juneau. I would like to say something positive or encouraging to close but all I can think of is things are fucked.