Mat-Su Senate nominee withdraws after heated social media posts
A second nominee to represent a portion of the Mat-Su in the state Senate has left the field, the day after controversial social media posts in his past began to make news.
Sutton resident Tom Braund said in a letter Thursday afternoon that he was withdrawing from consideration for the Senate District E seat, which was vacated by Mike Dunleavy when he stepped down to challenge Gov. Bill Walker. Braund said in his letter that the decision wasn't due to pressure over his comments, but because his closest friend "has needs and I am her provider."
"I apologize on the one hand for jumping ship, but compared to my friend, I do not apologize," Braund wrote. "Nobody means more to me than she does."
Austin Baird, a spokesman for Walker, said that Republicans had submitted the name of Vicki Wallner to replace Braund. A resume provided by Republicans says she operates the Facebook group Stop Valley Thieves and is also a board member of Mat-Su Crime Stoppers.
Wallner said on Thursday, she would like to represent the district because she doesn't agree with the way the state government is headed.
"With the deficit, the way it is, people are so upset about the budget, permanent fund, crime. And to me, I've always been one of those people who can't sit there and complain if you aren't willing to step up to the plate."
Wallner said crime and public safety would be her priorities. She's been outspoken about Senate Bill 91.
"I support certain things in SB 91 but there are so many other things that are really a problem that I don't think they can be fixed," she said. "I think you have to just repeal it, take out the good and pass that, and kind of start over."
Walker had originally went off a three-name shortlist of potential Dunleavy replacements submitted by District E Republicans to select Randall Kowalke. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans refused to confirm Kowalke, after sending Walker a letter outlining their objections to his selection and asking that the governor either select from the shortlist or go back to District E Republicans and ask for a new list.
Later Wednesday, Walker picked a name from the Mat-Su shortlist by selecting Braund. Walker defended his original choice, saying he remains convinced Kowalke was the best candidate; he added that he believes Senate Republicans will reject anyone he appoints no matter how qualified they are, unless that person’s name is on a list from the Republican Party.
According to his resume, Braund was a Marine radio repairman who was assigned to Guantanamo Bay. In Alaska, he's been a wildland firefighter and says he wants to protect natural rights and privileges, support freedom, defend marriage and family, as well as sound fiscal solutions and free enterprise.
However, Braund’s social media posts soon attracted attention Wednesday evening. Braund is not shy about expressing his strong opinions on Facebook, responding to a video from the American Center for Law and Justice that says about 4,000 children in America are aborted every day. Braund wrote that if he was in the Legislature, abortion would be murder, and that “all the abortionists would be hunted and executed with scissors, cutting their hearts out.”
Another Facebook post accuses illegal immigrants of invading the U.S. to “try and take Aztlan back under Mexican authority by continuing the Mexican-American war of 1846.” Azlan is the mythical home of Aztec people.
A third Facebook posts from 2012 shows Standard Oil’s logo superimposed over an image of a swastika. Standard, which is now Exxon, secured the first contract to drill for oil in Saudi Arabia.
In a Jan. 17 statement outlining his opposition to abortion, Braund claimed to recall his life before he was born.
"Life begins at conception," Braund wrote. "How do I know? I remember being in the womb and can testify that I could think, feel, see and hear."
Alaska Republican Party chair Tuckerman Babcock says that while he's glad Walker finally decided on someone from the list, he's surprised the governor thought Braund was the best candidate. Babcock called Walker petulant and asked why he picked Braund, saying the other two candidates -- Rep. George Rauscher and Todd Smoldon, were more qualified. Babcock said he wasn’t aware of Braund's sometimes controversial Facebook posts.
Gov. Walker's Chief of Staff Scott Kendall responded to Babcock on Wednesday thanking him for providing a full list of nominees in place of Braund. However, two of the names were rejected.
"Please take this letter as a notice that we have interviewed, considered, and are now rejecting the other two names on your original list, Representative George Rauscher and Todd Smoldon.
Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) said in a statement Thursday morning that she was "truly disappointed" in Walker's selection of Braund, urging Senate Republicans to reject him immediately."
"Mr. Braund has openly and continuously demonstrated he lacks the temperament and human decency to serve in this body as well as a lack of understanding of a woman's constitutional right to choose," Gardner wrote. "I always reach out and warmly greet every new legislator when they come to the Capitol, no matter the political differences, but I cannot even imagine the desire to shake this man's hand."
Walker's chief of staff, Scott Kendall, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the governor doesn't endorse Braund, or any of the other names on the Mat-Su shortlist to replace Dunleavy. Kendall said that by rejecting Kowalke and demanding that Walker select from the shortlist, Senate Republicans had "announced they would deprive the people in Senate District E of representation unless this demand was met."
"The governor does believe that District E is entitled to representation," Kendall said. "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."
Steve Quinn contributed information to this story.
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