Pro-education rally on Capitol steps missing key speaker

The rally's keynote speaker, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, pulled out at the last minute.
Becky Bohrer
Protestors gather on the steps of the state Capitol for a "Save Our Schools" rally to speak out against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be used for private and religious schools on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska.
Becky Bohrer

From Lisa Demer in Anchorage:

A Juneau rally in support of public schools went on as planned Monday but the keynote speaker, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott, backed out after being advised that the involvement of state legislators and legislative employees raised an ethical question about whether a candidate should be involved.

An aide in Rep. Harriet Drummond's office helped coordinate the speakers, according to Mark Gnadt, a spokesman for Alaska House Democrats.

Mallott learned less than an hour before the noon rally on the Capitol steps about the ethical issue, said campaign spokeswoman Shana Sheehy. Mallott, who lives in Douglas just across the bridge from Juneau proper, went to the rally but didn't speak.

"Since state funds were used through the press folks to make this known to people it's really not appropriate to have a gubernatorial candidate as a keynote speaker," she said.

The rally was led by Great Alaska Schools, a statewide nonpartisan coalition that advocates for public schools. The group hosted sign-making parties beforehand.

House Democrats estimated that a couple of hundred people showed up. Mallott was there, but didn't speak. He had planned to talk about the importance of public education and allude to his opposition to school vouchers, according to a copy of his speech provided by his campaign. A constitutional amendment that would allow public funding for private schools is being debated this session by lawmakers.

A number of people spoke, including Juneau Douglas High School senior Tori Talley.

Drummond, who served three terms on the Anchorage School Board and also was on the Anchorage Assembly, popped out for a bit of the rally during a break in the House floor session.

Find Lisa Demer at 257-4390, and on Twitter @lisa_demer.