A vacant seat in the Alaska Senate was the eyewall of an 18-hour political hurricane late Wednesday and Thursday morning.
Gov. Bill Walker controversially named Tom Braund of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to fill the vacancy, but the move appeared to be more about political maneuvering than a serious attempt to appoint someone to the Legislature.
Braund, in past Facebook posts, compared women to dogs and apparently urged the murder of abortion providers. Braund is a firm believer that human life begins at conception and that abortion is murder.
“Got to get a godly Legislature,” Braund wrote in a Facebook comment last year. “If I had the reins, this would be murder and the abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out. Oh, I forgot, they don’t have hearts.”
In a 2017 reply, Braund wrote about abortion: "If I had the reins, this would be murder and the abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out." #akleg pic.twitter.com/n0FStWZdPL
— Andrew S. Kitchenman (@kitchenman) February 15, 2018
In a separate post, he shared a list entitled “Theory Of Why Some Men Have Dogs And Not Wives,” which concluded, “To test this theory: Lock your wife &your dog in the garage for an hour. Then open it and see who’s happy to see you!”
This is from the Facebook of Tom Braund. Gov. Walker just appointed him to fill the Dunleavy seat after the senate rejected Kowalke. This guy will be sure to produce a lot of content that Landmine readers love. #akleg pic.twitter.com/8bp4xV7EQL
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) February 15, 2018
After Braund’s social media history circulated in the Capitol on Thursday — Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said she wouldn’t bother to shake his hand if he were appointed — Braund sent a letter to Walker withdrawing his name from consideration.
“In making this decision, I realize I will disappoint many who have wanted my style of duty for so long, some who have worked long hours to make this happen to get one from this list of 3, some who would invest in my seat to get what Alaskan’s need, good decisions for them,” Braund wrote in the letter.
Walker’s nomination of Braund seemed to be an attempt to prod Senate Republicans who rejected his first choice for the seat, Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke.
“To be clear, the governor absolutely does not endorse any of the three nominees sent to him by the Republican Party, including Thomas Braund,” said Walker Chief of Staff Scott Kendall in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
They will ‘reject any person I appoint’
Braund’s appointment and withdrawal is the latest turn in a process that began when Mike Dunleavy resigned from the Alaska Senate in January to pursue a run for governor.
Almost a month after that resignation, Walker selected Kowalke for the vacancy. Senate Republicans declined to confirm Walker’s selection.
In a letter to Walker, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said they “feel that the appointment varies from the traditional procedure employed to fill such vacancies.”
They offered their help in finding additional candidates if Walker was unhappy with his options.
Alaska law and the Alaska Constitution charge the governor with filling legislative vacancies. The governor must pick someone of the same political party as the departed lawmaker. That person must also be from the departed lawmaker’s district and abide by all other constitutional requirements.
To help the governor decide, the Republican and Democratic parties in Alaska have rules that allow local party officials to create a shortlist of people from all applicants. That shortlist is forwarded to the governor, who may or may not select someone from it.
Earlier this year, Walker decided to pick from outside the list when appointing Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue, to replace Dean Westlake, who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
After his choice of Kowalke was rejected, the governor picked Braund, a retired Marine and former wastewater treatment worker who now works on an organic farm with a religious bent.
“It is evident that the Senate Republicans will continue to reject any person I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person’s name is on the list provided to me by the Republican Party,” Walker wrote in a letter addressed to Kelly.
In selecting Braund, he decided against economics teacher Todd Smoldon and sitting Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, the other two people on the list.
Walker spokesman Austin Baird said the governor decided against Rauscher after the lawmaker posted a “BDSM-Free Zone” sticker on his office door. The sticker, which Rauscher said stayed up for only 40 minutes on a Sunday, came after a Juneau woman said Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel slapped her, rupturing her eardrum.
In text messages to the woman after the alleged slap, Fansler apologized for a “BDSM kink.”
It was not immediately clear why the governor rejected Smoldon, but Walker’s chief of staff said ruling out the other two left only Braund as a choice.
“Accordingly, 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. The Alaska Republican Party and the Senate Republicans now have the nominee they demanded,” Kendall wrote.
Alaska Republican Party chairman Tuckerman Babcock, who excoriated Walker for choosing Kowalke, told the Associated Press he was “shocked” that Walker picked Braund instead of one of the other two party-supported candidates.
Later in the day, in an email sharing Braund’s withdrawal letter with reporters, he said he had forwarded the name of Palmer’s Vicki Chaffin Wallner to Gov. Walker to replace Braund on the list of three district-supported candidates. Wallner, founder of the “Stop Valley Thieves” Facebook group, was the No. 4 candidate in the district nomination meeting held Jan. 15 in Wasilla.
Walker, in a letter responding to Babcock, definitively rejected Rauscher and Smoldon, then asked for the names of two more candidates. If Babcock moves down the list of candidates considered by District E, Thomas Arts and Eddie Grasser would be forwarded.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Wallner said she is ready to serve if the governor calls. She added, however, that there’s no guarantee that she will be selected.
“The way things have gone, it’s anybody’s game,” she said.
Walker has 10 days to pick a new nominee for the seat.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.