Ward's Nikiski residence challenged, Complaint: Senator doesn't live in trailer

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2002

JUNEAU -- A Kenai resident alleges that incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward does not live in the trailer in Nikiski that he claims as his new home.

Ronald Johnson filed a complaint with the state Division of Elections alleging Ward should be removed from the Aug. 27 primary ballot.

Ward, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate District Q covering most of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, denied the complaint on Monday.

The two-term incumbent announced in May 2001 that he was moving from his south Anchorage home to Nikiski to avoid running against longtime friend, Sen. John Cowdery, in the GOP primary.

''If you say you've got the pulse of North Kenai, you ought to have that,'' Johnson said, adding that Ward should ''get down here and get amongst us.''

Ward is a real estate agent who also owns houses in Anchorage and the Matanuska Susitna Borough. He has been in the Senate since 1996.

Ward had been pitted against Cowdery in Senate District 0 by a new legislative map approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board and ultimately upheld in court.

At the time, Ward said he moved in order to continue to represent the Kenai Peninsula.

''While Senator Ward did in fact purchase a mobile home on a parcel of land in the Nikiski area ... he nor members of his family have used it as their primary residence,'' Johnson said in the June 7 complaint.

Johnson shares an office with fellow real estate agent Joe Arness, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate against Ward.

But Johnson denied filing the complaint on behalf of Arness. Johnson's voter registration information lists his political affiliation as ''undeclared.''

Ward's Senate District Q is expected to be a hotly contested race with seven candidates vying for the seat. Raymond P. Vinzant Sr. is the third Republican candidate seeking the seat.

Other candidates include Thomas H. Wagoner for the Republican Moderate Party, Thomas M. Stroman for the Green Party and Democrats Patrick Hawkins and Kurt Loyal Melvin.

Ward denied the allegations in a telephone interview Monday and said he is confident the complaint will be dismissed.

''When you are in public life, your votes are open for discussion, your finances are open for discussion and your residency is open for discussion,'' he said.

Ward officially changed his address from his Anchorage home at 2531 Laird Circle on May 30, 2001. The deadline to file for legislative seats was June 1, 2002, and candidates must live in their district for at least a year before seeking office.

Ward's Anchorage property is valued at $235,900, according to city tax records. Property taxes on the home were $4,045.68 in 2002, records show.

The Nikiski home at 51915 Wik Road, a 3-bedroom trailer that includes a built-on addition and more than an acre of land, is valued at $18,200, according to tax records at the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Ward said he paid more money for the property than government records appraise it at, but would not disclose his purchase price.

Records indicate that Ward has not yet applied for a $10,000 tax exemption that Kenai residents may receive on their primary residence.

Johnson said Ward only appears in the area for events and neither lives there nor works there. Ward disputed that allegation too, adding that ''he should come visit me. Then he wouldn't have such problems.''

Under state regulations, a candidate must maintain a residence at a specific location within a district at least a year before seeking office.

State Division of Elections spokesperson Virginia Breeze would not comment on the complaint against Ward. The division has 30 days to investigate the complaint, she said.

If a complaint is determined to be valid, the candidate's name would not be on the Aug. 27 primary ballot, Breeze said.

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