Gov. Bill Walker tossed a live grenade into the hands of the Alaska Republican Party and Senate Republicans on Wednesday when he named Tom Braund, a Sutton man with hardline anti-abortion views and a catalog of incideniary social media posts, to fill Senate District E.
Less than 24 hours later, Republicans have flinched and Braund has personally withdrawn from consideration.
Local Republicans have reportedly advanced Vicki Wallner, the founder of the controversial Facebook group “Stop Valley Thieves,” who placed fourth at a district meeting last month.
How we got here/The latest
Senate Republicans and the Alaska Republican Party decried Walker’s off-list appointment of Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke. Senate Republicans formally rejected Kowalke’s appointment on Wednesday, demanding that Walker pick an appointment approved by district Republicans. Both seemed to put input of local Republicans on an unimpeachable pedestal, arguing that it should be left up to local party leaders to decide who’s best-suited to serve out the remainder of the term.
Walker ignored calls to work with the local party members to generate a new list–something he did when the replacements for Rep. Dean Westlake were also found to be problematic–and instead returned that night with the appointment of Braund, a man who said he remembered being in the womb, compared women to dogs in a Facebook post and said if he had his way abortion providers “would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out.”
Walker argued the fast appointment was needed because Senate District E had been vacant for a full third of the 90-day session and needed to be filled sooner rather than later. He said he felt his input was essentially meaningless in the process, saying “I now believe 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.”
But even though Braund’s name was on that list, he apparently wasn’t approved by Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock who told the Associated Press that he was “shocked” at the appointment.
It’s likely that Republicans so steadfastly opposed Kowalke in hopes Walker would fall back on Rep. George Rauscher, the sitting legislator many thought was favored to get the nod. He may have, but for a sign posted to the door of Rauscher’s office that appeared to be making light of a recent alleged assault on a woman by a now-former legislator.
So for roughly 13 hours Senate Republicans had to stare down the appointment of Braund. As best we can tell, no Republican senator spoke on the record about the prospect of confirming Braund–rejecting him would have been denying the local party a say, right?–but the majority did point out they were open to new names all along.
If Walker’s plan was to expose the faulty partisan process that Senate Republicans and the Alaska Republican Party held so high, then it’s mission accomplished, but Walker won’t be walking away without wounds of his own.
As effective of a political maneuver as some have called it, it didn’t win Walker universal praise. He did, after all, just appoint a hard-line abortion opponent with troubling social media posts about women.
Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner released a statement this afternoon outlining her disappointment with Walker and condemning the statements made by Braund.
“I am truly disappointed that Governor Walker chose Tom Braund to fill the vacancy in Senate District E. Mr. Braund has openly and continuously demonstrated he lacks the temperament and human decency to serve in this body as well as a lack of understanding of a woman’s constitutional right to choose,” she said in a prepared statement, adding, “I always reach out and warmly greet every new legislator when they come to the Capital, no matter the political differences, but I cannot even imagine the desire to shake this man’s hand.”
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest Alaska spokeswoman Jessica Cler released a statement calling Braund unacceptable, adding that “this also calls into question Governor Walker’s judgement and commitment to health care for all people in Alaska.”
Walker, it should be noted, has long held anti-abortion views.
When attention turned to Walker’s role in picking Braund, Chief of Staff Scott Kendall released a fiery statement jabbing back at the Senate Republicans and the Alaska GOP.
“To be clear, the Governor absolutely does not endorse any of the three nominees sent to him by the Republican Party, including Thomas Braund. … All questions regarding Mr. Braund’s fitness and qualifications for office should be directed to the Republican Party— who did vet Mr. Braund and, by vote, endorsed his beliefs as acceptable to them—as well as to the Senate Republicans who rejected Mr. Kowalke and specifically requested such a Party-approved nominee,” Kendall said in a prepared statement. “The Alaska Republican Party and the Senate Republicans now have the nominee they demanded.”
‘My decision is my own’
Braund sent Walker a lengthy letter explaining that his decision to withdraw his name from consideration is because a close friend “has needs and I am her provider.” It has nothing to do with the blowback generated by reporters simply looking through his public Facebook page, he said, or, presumably, the panicked response of the Republican party.
“My decision has nothing to do with the media trying to smear me with anything they think is dirt in their quiver; even a joke can be turned into dir by the low reporters,” he wrote. “My decision is my own.”
— Nat Herz (@Nat_Herz) February 15, 2018