LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR BUSY NOT OVERSEEING ELECTIONS
Byron Mallott’s first test as lieutenant governor laid bare the inadequacies of his attention to training, oversight, and diligence when it comes to his singular job of ensuring fair and transparent elections.
Mallott did pay attention on election day when he traveled to Dillingham and a couple of rural precincts to observe and document the new, improved Yup’ik ballot.
But he did a disappearing act when numerous irregularities started showing up in one of the key districts that his Democrats had targeted for change. His party, for which he is the highest elected officer in the state, was attempting to take out Rep. Ben Nageak, a moderate Democrat, and install Dean Westlake, someone they could control.
For days Mallott was just nowhere to be seen, and his Division of Elections director was being torn to shreds over very questionable results.
By Aug. 24, Sen. Bill Stoltze, chair of the State Affairs Committee, had seen enough. Numerous instances of illegal voting were evident, and he called a meeting of the committee so that lawmakers could hear from the lieutenant governor, his director of the Division of Elections or their designees.
The hearing was set for Aug. 28 at 10 a.m.
On Aug. 25, Mallott responded to the request that he attend the hearing. No thanks, he said, in his letter to Sen. Stoltze> Mallott would not attend the hearing since the election was still being processed. He said the hearing was premature:
NO BYRON MALLOTT, BUT JOSIE BAHNKE SENT TO THE SLAUGHTER
The combined hearing of the Senate and House State Affairs Committee proceeded without Mallott, and without his chief of staff, Claire Richardson.
Josie Bahnke, director of Elections, sat in her Juneau office with unknown and unnamed staff members around her to help her as she fielded questions from what turned out to be a very polite committee.
It was clear to everyone in the hearing that Bahnke was simply over her head with an election that had warts all over it.
Where was Lt. Gov. Mallott that day?
He was at his home in Yakutat that morning, as he had been for a couple of days prior. He was taking some time off and had been showing his hometown to some philanthropists brought to the state by Diane Kaplan, President of the Rasmuson Foundation.
But the morning of the hearing, there was nothing on his calendar. Nothing at all.
That afternoon, Mallott toured the Yakutat Seafood Plant and met with some staff members from the Department of Fish and Game. He attended the Yakutat Fish and Game Advisory Committee. He met with the local U.S. Forest Service Staff.
None of those meetings are part of his official job description. The only thing the lieutenant governor is supposed to do is to oversee free and fair elections. And guard the state seal.
According to his travel authorization and expense reports, Mallott was off duty on Aug. 27 and did not come back on duty until noon, Aug. 28.
MALLOTT ZIPS OFF TO JACKSON HOLE
Prior to the State Affairs Committee hearing, on Aug. 18 Mallott met with Department of Justice representatives invited by the Governor’s Office to monitor the elections.
On Aug. 19, he met with Chief of Staff Claire Richardson and Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke, and Libby Bakalar, the assistant attorney general who was assigned to the elections process. The focus was ballot translation for three census areas.
Mallott then issued a press statement saying that the double voting in Shungnak was not a problem because everyone had an opportunity to vote:
“With respect to the Shungnak precinct, the Division is aware of reports that the precinct workers gave voters both Republican and the combined Alaska Democratic Party, Alaska Libertarian Party and Alaskan Independence Party ballot. The Democratic Party allows any qualified voter to vote in their primary so anyone who voted in their primary was legally entitled to do so under party rules. Moreover, a candidate’s name appears on only one ballot, not multiple ballots, so no voter was able to cast more than one vote for any individual candidate.”
It is illegal to cast two ballots in Alaska. This is not a point of dispute, regardless of what the lieutenant governor is proposing, because if what he says stands as law, then everyone in Alaska should be allowed to vote both ballots. And that doesn’t happen.
Two days later, Mallott jetted off to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where his first meeting was with Khalid Alsweilem. The Saudi Arabian is Chief Counselor and Head of Investment at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, and has been published on the topic of “A Stable and Efficient Fiscal Framework for Saudi Arabia: The Role of Sovereign Funds in Decoupling Spending from Oil Revenue and Creating a Permanent Source of Income.”
Why would Alaska’s lieutenant governor meet with the central bank of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
Mallott then met with venture capitalist Robert Grady, who has been introduced to Alaska before,
Grady is with Gryphon Investors. He previously was with the Carlyle Group. His expertise is in investment and debt capital markets. Grady is a name known to the governor’s office as a close friend of Alaska Dispatch News Publisher Alice Rogoff and Jack Ferguson, a lobbyist for the governor.
Grady was brought into the discussion last year when Ferguson was hired by Gov. Bill Walker to try to sell his new fiscal plan. Grady was vetting the various models being proposed by people like John Tichotsky, formerly at the Department of Revenue and now on the governor’s staff.
Mallott then met with economist Paul O’Brien, who has written extensively on Norway fisheries and economy. He attended some keynote addresses and dinners and then flew back home to Juneau.
Meanwhile, the evidence continued to mount that his election system had completely broken down in at least one important district: District 40, where Rep. Ben Nageak was fending off a same-party challenge from Dean Westlake.
‘YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, JOSIE’
The lieutenant governor has left his Division of Elections director high and dry.
Inexperienced, facing mounting questions she cannot answer, Josie Bahnke has discovered that when good news happens, such as smooth voting on the Yup’ik ballot, Mallott will get the credit and the photo-op.
But if bad news happens, such as a Democratic Party-rigged election in District 40, it’s all on her.