Jenkins: Something stinks in District 15

By Paul Jenkins |

Let’s see. What stinks? Alaska emerging from the ice in spring surely does. Or Limburger cheese. How about the mudflats on a hot day? There are, of course, various and sundry scatological possibilities that good taste and leery editors prevent me from itemizing.

Oh, and then there are the results from the District 15 GOP primary election, which pitted Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux against challenger Aaron Weaver. The stench from the outcome is magnificently, blatantly bad — backwater Louisiana bad — even rising to the level of crawfish left broiling for a week or so in a sun-baked bucket. It is a stench usually smelled only in Third World cesspools — and Chicago.

The Roman statesman, soldier and sometimes dictator, Cincinnatus, once observed — at least some say he observed — “Absolute power should only be given to those who want it least.” Somebody in District 15 wanted it very badly, even having his or her dead pals trying to vote.

Despite that, despite the odor, the Division of Elections on Tuesday held its nose and certified the primary elections results after “additional in-depth review of every single absentee ballot cast in House District 15,” it said.

What happened during the voting? That remains unresolved.

What we need to sort all this out is simple. It is not an investigation by the Division of Elections, an agency directed by the lieutenant governor, a Democrat running for re-election. It is not a probe by the Law Department’s Criminal Division. Its boss is the governor’s lawyer. Any of that would smack of politics.

The level of possible chicanery in this balloting stabs at the very heart of honest elections and demands nothing less than a grand jury composed of honest and forthright citizens who can issue subpoenas, investigate, issue a report and even suggest who should go to the pokey, if necessary. Anything short of that is a waste of time and would do nothing to restore and enhance public confidence in our much-shaken electoral system.

Alaska unfortunately is not among the six states — Kansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada and Oklahoma — that have laws allowing citizens to impanel grand juries through a petition process. In our case, a prosecutor likely would have to persuade the presiding Superior Court judge in this judicial district to impanel such a jury.

By now, the facts appear widely known in the irregularity-marred contest that had incumbent LeDoux, once a Democrat and now a Republican who thinks she is a Democrat, facing off against political unknown Weaver, a guy who did not even actively campaign for the seat. In an election-night shocker, he led by three points in early counting.

Then, election officials laudably found seven absentee ballots applications — seven — from dead folks, along with absentee votes cast in the name of at least two individuals who said they had not voted. There were 26 ballots pulled because of residency or legitimacy questions, and all of them — each and every one — were for LeDoux.

It gets better. Most of the irregularities spring from a single Muldoon trailer park where some of Anchorage’s 6,000-strong Hmong community reside. LeDoux reportedly paid Charlie J. Chang, of Fresno, California, $10,000 to help her reach them. What Chang, reportedly a translator and political strategist, did for the dough remains a big question.

LeDoux, who earned Republicans’ ire when she joined the Democrat-led House majority last year and was rewarded with an important post for the switch, went on to win the District 15 election 456-339, with most of the district’s 11,744 registered voters staying home. Weaver withdrew and the Republican Party is backing an East Anchorage write-in candidate, Jake Sloan, a contractor.

Now, all that remains to do is sort out the mess. That somebody appears to have broken the law is unquestionable. So what? you may ask. After all, the skulduggery did nothing to alter the election’s outcome. Or did it? Who really knows how many votes in that election — an election where fewer than 800 ballots were counted — were legitimate? A mere handful of votes in such a small turnout could be consequential. We only know what election officials found.

For Alaskans to believe their ballots actually count, that bothering to vote is worth the effort, the balloting must be squeaky clean. A grand jury, with its power of subpoena, can sift through the rubble, put the contest under a microscope and tell Alaskans what happened. Anything less — because this case involves a powerful legislator — will be dismissed as politics.

For LeDoux’s part, she says she knows nothing, nada, zip. She should be daily demanding, loudly, that somebody get answers, and that certainly would be in her best interest.

The stink, after all, will only follow her to Nov. 6.

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