The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, March 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, March 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Anchorage Democrat alleges governor threatened Republicans before veto vote, prompting denials

Two days after the Alaska Legislature failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a wide-ranging education bill, the effects of that failure continued to reverberate across the state.

In a newsletter published late Tuesday, Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said the governor “threatened to campaign and spend $70,000 per race against any Republicans who voted to override the veto.”

Hours after Fields’ newsletter was released electronically, the president of the Fairbanks school board repeated a modified version of Fields’ claim at a meeting where the board, citing inadequate state funding, voted to close a high school.

Naming three Fairbanks-area legislators who voted to sustain the veto, board president Brandy Harty said, “I’ve heard rumors. And mind you, they are rumors, so newspapers in the audience — I’m fully aware — don’t quote me on it — that you might have sold us down the river for a $70,000 campaign donation. I hope it was worth it.”

Harty’s comment was repeated Wednesday morning by Must Read Alaska, the Alaska Republican Party’s favored in-state website, which took it as an insinuation of bribery.

That depiction incensed Sen. Robert Myers, R-North Pole, and Reps. Mike Cronk, R-Tok and Frank Tomaszewski, R-Fairbanks, all of whom Harty called out by name.

“Nobody contacted me in any way, or shape or form,” Tomaszewski said when asked whether he was offered money for his vote.

Cronk and Myers each said no one had offered them an incentive to vote, either. Myers said the accusation doesn’t even make sense in his case — he’s not up for election this year.

“I’m very — I don’t even know the word because I’m so — concerned that somebody would accuse me of taking a bribe,” Cronk said. “That is a very, very serious accusation. I don’t know if it’s slanderous or defamation of character. That’s not who I am.”

After Harty’s comments circulated in the Capitol, Fields said her words weren’t an accurate depiction of his statement. He wrote only about threatened spending against legislators, “not a cash payment” to them, he said.

Fields did not provide evidence of his claim, which he said was “from one or more (House Majority) members.”

By text message, he wrote: “Obviously, I’m not disclosing which one(s), but suffice to say reliable source(s) who were subject(s) of such threats.”

He declined to elaborate when questioned in person.

The governor’s office did not answer a question asking whether such threats took place.

Four Republicans in the House’s majority caucus — Reps. Justin Ruffridge of Soldotna, Will Stapp of Fairbanks, Jesse Sumner of Wasilla and Stanley Wright of Anchorage — voted to override the veto on Monday.

Ruffridge, Stapp and Wright said they hadn’t received any such threat.

“No comment,” Sumner said when asked whether he had received a threat like the one Fields described.

In Fairbanks, Harty said she trusts Fields’ account.

“I thought that an elected official in Juneau, publishing that in a newsletter, is a pretty reliable source,” she said.

Breaking down in tears over the phone, she said that the board is having to make terrible decisions because state funding has failed to keep up with needs.

“Fairbanks is cutting all the things that made my life here as a child better. … We’re closing schools. We’re talking about cutting activity budgets. We’re cutting so much and we’re hurting our kids,” she said. “I went to school to be a teacher. And I’ve watched for years as our state has failed our students in our schools, and it forced me to get involved. I seriously thought running for school board would help fix the problem, but the problem’s so much bigger than our local districts. We have to fix the problem, and the problem’s in Juneau.”

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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