Effort to oust lawmaker fails

Losing Anchorage candidate failed to present case in time

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2001

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer has rejected a plea by failed Anchorage House candidate Ray Metcalfe to block the seating of Rep.-elect Lesil McGuire on Monday.

That followed a decision by a judge that Metcalfe and co-litigants don't have standing to overturn McGuire's election in court because they did not press their case with the state Division of Elections within the time limit set by law.

Metcalfe, leader of the Republican Moderate Party, lost to McGuire, a Republican, by a nearly 2-1 margin in November for the seat being vacated by Republican John Cowdery, who is now a senator-elect.

Even before the election, though, Metcalfe contended McGuire shouldn't be eligible to hold office because she moved her legal residence outside House District 17 within a year before she filed for office.

The Alaska Legislature is the final arbiter of who is qualified to serve and Metcalfe said he might write a letter to lawmakers urging them not to seat McGuire. However, that appears to be a step the Republican majority would be very unlikely to take, especially on behalf of a candidate who has challenged the party's conservative social agenda. House Speaker Brian Porter was unavailable for comment this morning.

Metcalfe said if McGuire does become a representative on Monday when the Legislature convenes, he might see if he can interest the U.S. Justice Department in investigating the conduct of the state Division of Elections. He contends the division had information proving McGuire's ineligibility and didn't act on it.

The dispute has been extremely bitter. Metcalfe calls McGuire a "liar" and "sociopath." She says he is "a pathological liar (who) truly has no morals, has no work ethic," raising the residency issue instead of campaigning on issues.

Superior Court Judge Milton Souter didn't rule on the substance of Metcalfe's complaint - that McGuire was ineligible because she had her legal residence in another district for about two months in the spring of 2000, ending just two weeks before she filed for office. State law requires a year of unbroken residency in the legislative district before a candidate can file for office.

Janet Kowalski, director of the Division of Elections, said she accepted McGuire's declaration of candidacy without formally deciding what her legal residence was. "I didn't feel there was enough documentation to deny the candidacy."

The statutes used for reference are complicated and involve some subjective judgment, such as determining a candidate's intent, Kowalski said. McGuire said documents showing an address for her in another House district reflect her tentative plan to move at the time, but she said she never actually did so.

On Wednesday, Ulmer's office released a letter she wrote to Chris Breest of Anchorage, a friend of Metcalfe's and co-plaintiff in his suit to disqualify McGuire for the Legislature.

Breest asked for Ulmer's intervention because of the December court ruling saying that Breest, Metcalfe and their co-litigants erred in not lodging their complaint first with the Division of Elections in June, within 10 days after the filing deadline for office. Metcalfe said he didn't learn of the residency issue until some weeks later.

Breest and Metcalfe said they aren't appealing Souter's ruling because of fear that they would be saddled with McGuire's attorney's fee if they lost the appeal.

"Judge Souter's ruling effectively rendered residency and other qualification requirements unenforceable by anyone other than the lieutenant governor and the Division of Elections," Breest wrote to Ulmer. "Voters' rights are at stake. ... Now the buck stops with you. You are sworn to uphold the constitution of the State of Alaska. Can you swear her in, knowing what you now know, without violating that oath?"

In replying, Ulmer said Breest missed the June 12 deadline for filing a complaint contesting a candidate's eligibility. She also noted Kowalski previously rejected the complaint on the same grounds. And the judge's order dismissing the case seals the matter, barring an appeal in court or a two-thirds vote of the House to expel McGuire, Ulmer wrote.

Metcalfe cited a section of the Alaska Administrative Code that he says gives Kowalski, and thus Ulmer, her boss, unlimited authority to evaluate a candidate's eligibility for office.

But McGuire said she's tired of the issue, which she claims was a deliberate effort by Metcalfe to get her thrown off the general election ballot after it was printed, so that he would face no opposition. Democrats didn't field a candidate in District 17.

"Ray Metcalfe sort of needs to go on with his life and move on at this point," McGuire said today. As for the circumstances that led to the allegation she had moved out of the district, she said, "At this point, it's irrelevant."

McGuire lived in Juneau from January to May last year, while working as a legislative aide. She previously has told reporters her temporary change in address on voter registration forms, from March 20 to May 11, occurred by accident. She said she filled out the form changing her address the first time because it came with the Alaska Permanent Fund application packet.

Metcalfe contends oil companies recruited McGuire to move back into District 17 to run against him because there were no other viable Republican candidates. He has been involved in litigation against oil companies.

Metcalfe said he has affidavits from residents of District 13 who say McGuire was their neighbor. But she said residents of District 17 were prepared to testify that she lived there.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.

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