Duncan lashes out at 'whisper campaign'

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

Commissioner of Administration Jim Duncan lashed out at what he called a "whisper campaign" accusing him and other Democrats of illegally using state telephones to wage a get-out-the vote effort prior to the Nov. 5 election.

Duncan accused family members of GOP state Senate candidate Cathy Muñoz of fueling the rumors that a conference room in the State Office Building was used for political purposes.

"This is not the type of politics we have ever seen in Juneau," Duncan said. "They are trying to discredit me for some reason, when there is no rationale."

Muñoz lost her bid to incumbent Democrat Kim Elton for Juneau's state Senate seat. Duncan supported Elton's campaign and as head of the state Department of Administration, he oversees the State Office Building.

Duncan sent an angry letter to Muñoz' father, Elton, in which he responded to several questions raised after the Nov. 5 election. He sent copies of that letter to media organizations including The Associated Press.

Cathy Muñoz would not comment and said her campaign is not involved in the dispute, which began after her brother Allan Engstrom contacted the state attorney general.

Allan Engstrom, who worked on the Muñoz campaign, had asked the state on Nov. 11 for telephone records from the conference room and Duncan's office phone between Oct. 1 and Nov. 5.

"I've never accused anyone of wrongdoing and I haven't accused Jim Duncan of wrongdoing," Engstrom told the Juneau Empire. "Filing a Freedom of Information Act request is certainly not an accusation."

Engstrom said the allegations surfaced after a janitor told him she witnessed strange activity in the conference room after normal business hours. He was not acting on behalf of the Muñoz campaign, Engstrom said.

"This has nothing to do with the Muñoz campaign other than the fact that I am personally curious what went on up there," Engstrom said.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho said his office is looking into the matter but so far attorneys have been unable to locate witnesses to corroborate the story.

"We're checking it out in any event, because obviously these are serious allegations. Commissioner Duncan, for his part, sees it as a serious charge against his integrity," Botelho said.

In a response to Elton Engstrom, which Duncan made available to the media, Duncan said records provided under the information request clearly show that the allegations are false.

"The phone records of the conference room phone and my office phone show no unusual activity and no calls being made to urge people to vote for Kim Elton," Duncan wrote to Elton Engstrom.

Allan Engstrom followed up his original information request with one on Nov. 20 asking for records of all the phone calls made after 5 p.m. and on weekends between Oct. 20 and Nov. 5 at the State Office Building. The Department of Administration told Engstrom it would comply only if he paid $12,380, the state's estimated cost of obtaining the records.

"Twelve thousand dollars seems like an awful lot to process that request," Engstrom said. He might renew the request after Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski takes office Monday, he said.

Duncan is a former Democratic lawmaker appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles. Elton Engstrom, Cathy Muñoz' father, unsuccessfully ran against Duncan for a state House seat several years ago.

Empire reporter Eric Fry contributed to this article.

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