Drama marks efforts to fill open Alaska Senate seat

February 21, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The normally mundane process of filling an open legislative seat has been anything but in Juneau, with more twists and turns to the drama unfolding Wednesday as Gov. Bill Walker attempted for a third time to fill a vacant Senate seat.

This time, the vetting process did not uncover questions about the party affiliation of Walker’s latest nominee to the Republican seat, Mike Shower. The director of the Division of Elections said Shower changed his party affiliation by phone from undeclared to Republican on Wednesday morning, prompting Walker to re-nominate Shower. Walker said he did so at the request of Senate Republicans “now that he’s formally changed his party registration to GOP.”

But shortly after Walker’s announcement, the division director, Josie Bahnke, said she had a chance to look into the issue further.

In an email to The Associated Press, she said a paper form with a change of party affiliation for Shower had been “making the rounds” between division offices. She said the effective date for the change in affiliation from undeclared to Republican was Jan. 13.

She provided a redacted copy of the application bearing that date.

The date is consistent with what state GOP Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said. He said Shower filled out a voter registration form at a district convention last month to change his party affiliation after it was pointed out he wasn’t a registered Republican.

Shower then participated in the convention, being elected a precinct leader and Republican delegate to the state convention, Babcock said.

“Somehow that form either was not turned in by the volunteers at the convention or disappeared when it hit the Division of Elections,” he said when the kerfuffle first broke out.

Later, he credited the division with acknowledging they had found a paper form. While he said he’s been critical of the division previously, he gave the agency a pass this time, saying a lot of paperwork moves between division offices and this type of thing happens.

“It’s pretty unusual that it would be an issue but it is because it’s so high profile,” he said. The fact Shower changed his voter registration as a “necessity of law” made it into “a huge thing,” Babcock said.

Under state law, a person appointed to an open seat must be from the party of the prior office holder. The law also says a member of a political party “is a person who supports the political program of a party.”

The seat was previously held by Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, who resigned last month to run for governor.

Shower served in the U.S. Air Force and is a pilot with FedEx, according to his resume. His appointment is subject to confirmation by Senate Republicans.

Walker, a former Republican no longer affiliated with a party, nominated Shower after two failed attempts to fill the seat. His first pick was rejected by Senate Republicans and his second pick withdrew amid a firestorm over controversial social media posts.

The governor’s office said in announcing Shower’s appointment that the candidates were vetted by the Republican Party.

Austin Baird, a spokesman for Walker, responded by email to questions about the office’s vetting processes. He said it’s rare for governors to make legislative appointments so processes to vet candidates weren’t well established. After the issue with Braund, he said vetting practices have been improved but did not elaborate. He said Walker’s office did not make a mistake in vetting Shower.

Baird said party registration does not determine eligibility to fill an open legislative seat and Walker resubmitted Shower’s name for consideration when Senate Republicans asked him to do so.

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