We have all been taken aback by emails from folks who work at one of the major political parties showing a predisposition against a candidate in their own primary process that begs the question: Are they putting their finger on the scale to tip the process against one of their own party members?
You probably think I am referring to the scandal at the Democrat National Committee (DNC) that ultimately cost Debbie Wasserman-Schultz her position as Chairwoman. Nope. I’m thinking of a situation that is actually more troubling and closer to home.
Yesterday, Alaska Republican Party Communication Director Suzanne Downing, in her weekly semi-official party newsletter included this stanza:
“INDIVIDUAL EXPENDITURE HITS PRIMARY: The individual expenditure hit group known as Big Labor is deeply involved in the South Anchorage Senate District L race. This is the flyer they put out, putting the mark of Cain on Jeff Landfield.”
It was a blatant attack piece intended to portray Republican State Senate candidate Jeff Landfield as incomparable with the Party’s anti-union position. (It’s worth noting that while the Alaska GOP is staunchly anti-union they do currently share office space with Republican and organized labor champion Congressman Don Young.)
Downing’s point was put more bluntly last week by KFQD radio show host Dave Stieren on Facebook:
Stieren and Downing were saying the exact same thing with the exact same intent. The difference is Stieren is a radio host holding no official position in the Alaska Republican Party structure. As such, regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with him, there is no impropriety in his posting.
The same cannot be said for Downing. She is a paid employee and the senior staffer at the Alaska GOP. She, as much as anyone else, is the face of the state party. As a person who has previously held that same position, with that same organization, I can say confidently a person in that position is not usually allowed to openly attack Republican primary candidates and is expected to support whomever Republican primary voters select to represent them.
Landfield is and has been a registered Republican for many years. He ran for State Senate four years ago as a Republican, in a Republican primary , and received 44% of the vote in that election. Regardless of who you are supporting this year in the State Senate Seat L Republican primary or whether you personally like Landfield, he is objectively a legitimate Republican candidate for office running in a contested primary.
It is also worth pointing out that unlike the Jim Colver vs. George Rauscher primary race where all of the Mat-Su districts and the State Central Committee (SCC) voted to endorse one of the candidates in the primary, neither the district organizations or the SCC has endorsed anyone in Landfield’s race.
So what then is Alaska GOP staff doing attacking a Republican primary candidate in this race?
Republicans and Democrats alike have been outraged by the emails leaked showing disrespectful treatment towards Bernie Sanders by DNC staff in their internal emails. I ask, what is the difference between that and what Downing did here?
Actually, I would argue what the Alaska GOP did is far worse. The DNC emails were never intended for mass consumption. As wrong as they were, they were never intended to persuade anyone of anything.
Downing’s email was sent to a mass audience and the section posted above was explicitly for the purpose of persuading partisans not to support or vote for a given candidate. Is that not the very definition of the party establishment “putting their finger on the scale?”
I know there are a lot of party insiders and activists who don’t see Landfield as their guy, and so they may be inclined to say “who cares, it’s Jeff Landfield.” But think about this, with the various fluctuations we have seen in Alaska GOP leadership in the last few years, are you really confident that if this kind of activity by party operatives is allowed that it won’t be your guy or gal the party chooses to subtly, or overtly, go after next time?
Are you that confident some new iteration of party leadership elected at the next state convention won’t allow staff or party resources to be used to go after Joe Miller, or Lisa Murkowski, or Amy Demboski, or Andrew Halcro?
I could easily see any of those happening.
The Alaska Republican Party has to decide, and decide today, is it a party that lets its members choose its candidates or if that is the job of those who are paid by the party?