Supreme Court to take up Democrats' open primary ballot - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, September 23, 2019
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Supreme Court to take up Democrats’ open primary ballot

The Alaska Supreme Court will convene in Kenai this morning to hear the State of Alaska vs. Alaska Democratic Party.

The case results from Democrats deciding that they need to have unaffiliated or other party-free candidates run in their primaries, because Democrats by themselves can’t get elected in the numbers the party needs to take control of Alaska’s political order.

Democrats won with the playbook of backing Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who dropped his Republican affiliation and ran ostensibly as an Independent with the full support of the Democrats, alongside running mate Byron Mallott, who remains a Democrat.

They then ran an Indie-Democrat in Ketchikan, winning with Rep. Daniel Ortiz, again with the full support and purse of the Democrats.

It worked again in Anchorage, when Jason Grenn ran as an unaffiliated candidate against Liz Vasquez and received Democrats’ endorsement and financial aid.

Now, the party wants to take it a step further and allow non-Democrats to run on its primary ballot. That question passed the test at the Superior Court level, but the State of Alaska believes it needs to be settled in the Supreme Court to avoid further electoral complications.

The Supreme Court is on its annual “road show,” and will meet in front of an assembly of high school students at Kenai Central High School’s Renee C. Henderson Auditorium.

Court convenes at 9:30 am and is set to end arguments at 11:45 am. Members of the public may attend and students from around the district will arrive on buses to witness the proceedings, which will provide for a fascinating lesson in constitutional law.

The appeal in question can be found here.

WILL THIS WORK IN REVERSE?

Last fall’s court ruling that the Alaska Democratic Party may run candidates in its primary who are not officially aligned with any political party raises questions for party integrity and transparency. In Hawaii, the Democratic Party exerts strict control over who can run on its ticket, thereby making the party all-powerful.

In practical terms, the change in Alaska would mean a non-Democrat could win against a registered Democrat in the Democrats’ primary,  and then go on to represent the Democrats in the general election, while still appearing to voters to be undeclared, unaffiliated, or nonpartisan.

One of the unintended consequences of a decision to uphold the Superior Court ruling is that Republicans could decide they, too, have a right to  “freedom of association.” If that is the argument that decides it for the Supreme Court judges, then Republicans will be able to kick three rogue legislators off the Republican primary ballot. Republicans will argue that freedom of association cuts both ways.

The Republican Party of Alaska has withdrawn the party’s support from Reps. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, Paul Seaton of Homer and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, after they ran as Republicans and then quickly caucused with House Democrats to stage a coup in the Alaska House of Representatives. The Democrats are now fully in charge of the House, but only because of the three rogue Republicans.

A ruling is not expected today, but will likely occur before June.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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