Political pundits and media types were predicting an “October surprise” in the Alaska governor’s race. With Mike Dunleavy leading the polls by a comfortable margin, everyone assumed he would be the target.
But no one saw this coming. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned on Tuesday due to “inappropriate comments” he had made and threw the gubernatorial race into turmoil.
It’s too early to tell how this will affect those who were planning to vote for the Walker-Mallott ticket. With Mark Begich and Bill Walker polling at a combined 50 percent of voters, a total meltdown of either candidacy could totally change the election dynamic.
Alaska has always had its share of unusual and complicated elections. With 18 days left, we even have time for another “October surprise.”
Certainly the rules are different now as recent events on the national scene illustrate.
Prior to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s dramatic Supreme Court confirmation vote on Oct. 6, I didn’t think political polarization and character assassination could get worse.
But it did.
Many Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee refused to participate in confirmation proceedings, sometimes not attending interviews or refusing to ask questions. After demanding and getting an additional FBI investigation, they claimed the process was unfair and a “whitewash.” Last-minute uncorroborated charges of inappropriate sexual behavior continued unabated.
Protestors stormed congressional offices, screamed insults at lawmakers and ignored even the most basic tenets of civility, fairness and presumption of innocence.
Sen. Susan Collins received “multiple serious threats” after voting “yes” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Protestors swarmed her home daily and she was labeled a “rape apologist.”
Collins and her offices are now under enhanced security for the “foreseeable future.” Kavanaugh, his family, and some supporters are also targets of threats and harassment.
Polling seems to indicate extremists overplayed their hand and possibly strengthened Republican efforts to retain control of Congress. But political opportunists seem intent on doubling down.
Even as retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy warmly welcomed and swore in Kavanaugh as his replacement, charges of white racism, talk of impeachment, threats to end the Electoral College and legitimacy challenges to the Supreme Court continued on talk shows and social media.
It’s hard to understand why so many believe this is OK, and in fact, justified. Historically, such angry, poisonous rhetoric has not been successful. It disturbs most Americans who will judge it for what it is — politically-motivated talking points designed to fire up voters and divide us.
The Democratic mantra demonizing Republicans as racist misogynists doesn’t bring us closer — it only divides us further.
Certainly, the national conversation about sexual assault hits home in Alaska — maybe even more than anywhere else. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, Alaska leads the country in reported rapes with a per capita rate three times the national average.
Alaskans are coming to grips with the seriousness of this issue while so far avoiding the hysterical circus-like atmosphere prevalent nationally. We don’t need to abandon constitutionally protected principles of due process in order to treat victims with the compassion and attention they deserve while investigating and prosecuting perpetrators.
Whether recent national events signal a change in how Alaskans will view the #MeToo movement remains to be seen. This issue, among others, will remain part of our political discussions in the current campaigns, the Legislature and elsewhere.
Many Alaskans will stay focused on the unique race for governor, but we cannot ignore the importance of the other statewide races. We don’t know how our Legislature will be organized for the coming legislative session. The State Senate will remain in Republican hands but statehouse races in November will determine if that body will be organized under a Democratic-controlled majority coalition, as it was last year, or whether it will return to a Republican majority.
The chaotic events of the past week and month should remind us all, regardless of political persuasion, that contentious and emotional political issues deserve factual and balanced consideration.
On Nov. 7, Alaska will still be a small state and Juneau a small community. The less polarized and more civilized we are, the better our state and communities will survive the current upheaval.
• Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations. He contributes a regular column to the Juneau Empire. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.