Judge clears Szymanski to run for state Senate

Posted: Wednesday, September 06, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A judge rejected a Republican challenge Tuesday to Democrat Mike Szymanski's eligibility to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. Jerry Ward for the District E seat that stretches from south Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula.

The Republican Party of Alaska and GOP activists have been trying to block the former lawmaker's well-financed bid to unseat Ward. They went to court after Director of Elections Janet Kowalski refused to oust Szymanski from the race.

Like Kowalski, Kenai Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link rejected the argument that Szymanski had not lived in the district for the required year before he filed for office.

''In this case the director carefully and meticulously compiled available information and correctly analyzed it according to the applicable law,'' Link wrote.

The GOP's main evidence was the fact that Szymanski voted in House District 11 --outside Senate District E's boundaries -- in last September's special election and didn't change his voter registration until January. A state law says ''a qualified voter loses residence by voting in another election district or in another state's elections.''

But Link, like Director of Elections Janet Kowalski, noted that the law allows Alaskans to cast absentee ballots from outside their home districts on election day. And he said Szymanski offered other evidence of his residency.

Szymanski contends he has lived in House District 10 since 1998 at the condominium of his companion, Sheelah Shelton, and used his District 11 residence only as an office. He dismisses the residency challenge as a political ploy by Ward's supporters.

Szymanski also pointed out that last September's election was on a single statewide issue -- the plan to balance the budget with earnings of the Permanent Fund -- and not on a district race.

''I didn't vote in another district's election,'' Szymanski said. ''I voted in a statewide election.''

Randy Ruedrich, the chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, said the party hasn't decided whether to appeal Link's decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

''There's certainly a chance of an appeal,'' Ruedrich said. ''The judge's interpretation and application of the law seems to be less than complete.''

For now, the ruling clears the way for what promises to be one of the most hotly contested races of the fall campaign season.

Szymanski served two terms in the Alaska House before representing a similar Senate district for one term. He retired from the Legislature in 1990 before a Republican-controlled redistricting plan redrew the lines of the district.

Ward, who had served in the House in the 1980s, won the seat in 1996 after a bitter campaign battle with Democratic incumbent Judy Salo.

Both men had raised more than $40,000 in campaign contributions before last month's primary, which both won easily.

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