The Alaska Division of Elections has reconfirmed the legal candidacy of Senate District E hopeful Mike Szymanski. However, the Republican Party of Alaska has asked for an expedited hearing challenging Szymanski's eligibility.
A scheduling hearing will be held at noon today before Kenai Superior Court Judge Harold Brown, according to Soldotna resident George Martin, one of three complainants asking the Division of Elections decision be overturned. Martin said it was his understanding that the judge will set a schedule to hear arguments and make a decision.
In a statement Friday, Elections director Janet Kowalski issued a second ruling regarding allegations that Szymanski was not a resident of District E, and therefore not a viable candidate. Democrat Szymanski, a former state senator and representative, is hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, in November's general election.
The challenge to Szymanski's candidacy comes from supporters of Ward's in the Republican Party. Martin, a self-described "Republi-can Party activist," initiated the complaint against Szymanski to the Division of Elections, and is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit asking a Kenai judge to overrule Kowalski. Martin is listed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission as a financial contributor to Ward's campaign.
The other plaintiffs include House District 9 chair Tommy Thompson and the Republican Party of Alaska. District 9, which encompasses Kenai and Nikiski, along with District 10, south Anchorage, comprise Senate District E.
In mid-June, Martin challenged Szymanski's residency, claiming he was not a resident of Alaska, nor of District E. Later that month, Kowalski ruled Szymanski was indeed a resident of Alaska, though she did not address what election district he lived in.
Martin filed a subsequent complaint, detailing his argument that Szymanski was not a resident of District E based on Szymanski's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend application, vehicle registration and voting record in a different election district. Kowalski's Friday decision addressed those complaints.
In a letter to Martin, Kowalski wrote that the documentation he provided her was not enough to disqualify him as a candidate.
"Therefore, I am issuing this final determination upholding Mr. Szymanski's eligibility as a candidate for State Senate District E."
Martin said election records show Szymanski voted in District 11 during September's special advisory vote regarding use of portions of permanent fund earnings for state government. Kowalski does not dispute that, but maintained that Szymanski's place of residence was well established in District 10.
"The September election consisted of a single question dealing with a statewide issue. Mike Szymanski did not participate in a local election question dealing with either neighborhood or district candidate issues," Kowalski wrote. "The act of voting in District 11 in September 1999 is not enough, in and of itself, to disqualify Mike Szymanski's candidacy."
Szymanski changed his voter registration to District 10 in January of this year but claims residency there since 1998, well before the one year required under state law. Szymanski owns the property in District 11 that Martin claims is Szymanski's legal residence, but Szymanski counters that part of it serves as his office and the rest of it is rented to others.
Kowalski partially based her decision on letters from a number of people who said they had either lived at the District 11 address or knew Szymanski to be a resident of District 10.
"As I said before, I don't live in a mailbox," Szymanski said in response to Kowalski's final determination. "I hope the snipping from the Republican Party and Jerry Ward will end so they can go back to their own restricted and closed primary and not focus on the Democratic primary."
While Szymanski said he hopes Kowalski's final determination and its supporting documents will be enough for Martin, Thompson and the Republican Party to drop their law suit, he's not optimistic.
"They are grasping at straws, trying to fabricate something out of nothing," he said Sunday. "I don't see any other motive other than muck raking. It's just a ploy on their part to put a cloud over my candidacy."
Meanwhile, Martin, Thompson and the Republicans are pressing Brown for an accelerated hearing in their lawsuit against Kowalski's first Szymanski ruling. The motion asks that an expedited consideration be made as soon as possible so "voters in Senate District E will know whether Mr. Szymanski is qualified to run and qualified to serve if elected." The request also said an early decision should be made so either party can appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, if need be.
Martin said Sunday that he is prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court if Brown rules Szymanski an eligible candidate.
"Kowalski's opinion is that the law isn't the law," Martin said. "The courts will have to determine whether we're interpreting the law correctly or Kowalski is."
Szymanski said he has retained an attorney and may intervene in the court case. He said the Democratic Party of Alaska may intervene as well.
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