AG Kevin Clarkson doesn't even try to hide his political tactics
On Wednesday, at 10:23 a.m., the brand new Twitter account of @AGKevinClarkson announced that he had directed the state Division of Elections to not distribute signature booklets to the sponsors of an election reform initiative, despite a court order that required the process to proceed.
Why did he ignore an existing court order and an agreement made by his own department nine days earlier?
A Republican Party official had filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the booklet distribution, a court filing that Clarkson was happy to see because it gave him political cover for reversing a decision made in his absence.
At the time Wednesday when Clarkson made his Twitter announcement, no judge had looked at the lawsuit, so there was nothing requiring Clarkson to take any action. But the AG did what the GOP official asked through the lawsuit. In essence, Clarkson was claiming that because a judge might agree with the lawsuit, the state should act as the GOP lawsuit would prevail.
He would never have taken this preemptive strike against an initiative that he supports.
“A lawsuit was filed claiming that signature books for the initiative to eliminate party primaries cannot be released until final order of the Court. To let the Court play its role interpreting the Constitution, I told the Div. of Elec. to hold the books until final court order,” Clarkson said on Twitter.
I have no idea whether he encouraged the filing of the lawsuit, but the court claim matches Clarkson’s point of view and provided a way to stop the signature collection process while the overall court challenge proceeds.
Clarkson used the lawsuit as the means to kill an agreement approved by the state Sept. 9.
On that day, the AG’s office had promised the state would send the “petition booklets to the printers on Sept. 9, 2019 with the goal of making them available to the plaintiffs by Sept. 23, 2019,” according to a court order signed Sept. 10 by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux.
It was approved by attorney Scott Kendall, representing the petition backers, and Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general, who signed for assistant attorney general Margaret Paton-Walsh.
The Sept. 9 deal said that the state agreed the process could move forward “prior to the merits of the case being decided because application of the single-subject rule is the only disputed issue in the case, which applies to an initiative as a whole.”
Nothing changed by this week. It was a reasonable agreement. Clarkson’s name was not on it.
On Sept. 9, Clarkson was standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., with other attorneys general, opining about why Alaska has a special interest in investigating Google because of its unique geography. Clarkson, a big fan of these legal chain letters, even popped up for a minute on C-SPAN along with all the other generals.
I’m guessing that after Clarkson learned that a reasonable deal had been made, he decided to insert himself into the political process once more, using the convenient lawsuit filed by an attorney for Harry N. Young Jr., a GOP precinct leader in Eagle River, as justification.
In the lawsuit, Young said the initiative sponsors and Clarkson’s department had “entered into a stipulation by which the state agreed to print ballot petitions in advance of any resolution of the lawsuit and in advance of any certification decision by the Lt. Governor.”
The booklets were ready to be handed out, the Wednesday lawsuit said, and allowing that to happen would cause “irreparable harm” in the form of voter confusion and undermining confidence in the government.
To the contrary, collecting the signatures would cause no harm to the state or anyone else. Confusion and confidence levels that rise and fall are irrelevant.
If the case is ultimately decided against the proponents of the initiative, the measure will end there. It the proponents win, the time to collect signatures before the next Legislature will be short.
On Thursday, the backers of the initiative, the state and Young’s attorney settled the booklet distribution fight by agreeing to hold off, but they also moved up the court hearings on the overall case to late October.
Clarkson notified his 26 followers on Twitter. I signed up as No. 27.
“By agreement of the parties the court ordered that signature booklets for the initiative proposing that parties no longer choose their candidates to appear on the general ballot, be held by the Div. of Elections until after the case is concluded. No signature gathering presently,” he said.
Clarkson signed the Aug. 29 opinion in which he said the initiative did not belong on the ballot because an initiative has to be limited to one subject and this one deals with multiple subjects. The sponsors counter that it deals with one subject—the election process.
The initiative would end the closed primary system and have voters rank candidates 1-4. It would place new limits on “dark money,” political contributions that are hidden from the public because of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.
Clarkson wrote that “despite the questionable nature of many of the significant proposed changes in this initiative, it does not rise to the level of being ‘clearly unconstitutional.’”
But he also said that , “One could easily imagine a voter passionately wanting an open primary, yet zealously opposing more robust campaign finance requirements due to First Amendment concerns.”
I imagine that Clarkson passionately wants to keep Alaskans from deciding this for themselves.