Calling them part an organized effort to hurt his chances in Tuesday's Republican Party primary race for Sen. District Q, Republican Sen. Jerry Ward responded to statements made in three letters to the editor appearing in Thursday's edition of the Peninsula Clarion.
"What we have here is a last-minute letter-to-the-editor campaign, orchestrated with the help of whoever places the letters (in the paper) who is trying to generate a story, and controlled by Outside interests trying to influence the election on the Kenai Peninsula," Ward said. "Sleazy, last-minute attacks are not accepted well on the Kenai Peninsula, and I'm sure that this one will not be either."
One letter writer asked why Ward seemed "so fixated" on having Alaska indebted to Cornell Corrections, the firm that worked unsuccessfully to put a private prison in Kenai.
"The last prison on the peninsula was the Seward one," Ward said Thursday. "There won't be a private prison on the peninsula. I've never changed my position."
Another writer had a question regarding issues referred to in a recent story in the Anchorage Daily News regarding an announcement by Kenai Natives Association officials that the association was facing possible bankruptcy and is attempting to recover uncollected rents from spaces it leases to gaming concerns.
The real estate company that managed the pull-tab parlor leases for KNA is Jerry and Margaret Ward Realty, a company owned by Margaret Ward, Sen. Ward's wife.
The letter writer asked if there was a direct connection between that and Sen. Ward.
Ward had listed the business relationship on legislative financial and ethics disclosure forms, according to the Daily News article. But Ward said the leasing contract was his wife's business.
"I do not have any relation with KNA," Ward said. "My wife does. The story (letter to the editor) in the Clarion is just not true."
Efforts to reach Wayne Wilson, president of KNA, for comment were unsuccessful. Wilson was moose hunting, according to a secretary at the KNA office. Attempts were made to reach him in the field.
Another letter writer, Frank Smith, who lives in Bluff City, Kan., also questioned the connection between Ward, private prison backers and the failure of the effort to bring one to Delta Junction in 1999. Allvest Inc. and Delta Corrections Corp. entered an agreement with Delta Junction that later ended up in a breach of contract suit settled out of court. Smith said the attempt to put a private prison at Fort Greely ended up leaving that community with a $1 million debt.
Peter Hallgren, city administrator of Delta Junction, said it is a sore subject in the community, adding that he did not want to rehash old details. He did not categorize what connection, if any, Ward had had with the effort to put a prison at Fort Greely.
"The city of Delta Junction wants to put the entire prison matter as far behind it as it can and has no interest in engaging in election debates at this point," he said. "There is no question we have a million-dollar liability from the prison lawsuit settlement."
Hallgren went on to say, however, that Ward did support a legislative effort to provide relief for Delta Junction this year.
"It is also true that Sen. Ward voted in favor of a loan to the city to pay the settlement," Hallgren said. "Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed it."
Hallgren, who was chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska from 1994 to 1998, said the community likely would go back to the Legislature again next year seeking a grant or a loan to pay off the debt.
Smith, who is co-chair of the Alaska Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Alaska Retirement Chapter PAC No. 52, also said Ward was "indisputably responsible" for squandering the Constitutional Budget Reserve and endangering the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Ward, who has long claimed to be one of the fund's staunchest defenders and an advocate for cutting state spending, responded with ire.
"The gentleman from Kansas attacking me on the financial condition of the state should move back to the state so he can participate in the voting process, instead of last-minute smear attacks," he said.
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