U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan's Republican primary opponents are escalating their attacks on the former Alaska attorney general over his stance on the state's "stand your ground" law.
At a recent debate, candidate Joe Miller questioned Sullivan's claim in a radio ad that, as attorney general, he had "fought to protect our Second Amendment rights and passed 'stand your ground.'"
In the two weeks since, the campaigns of both Miller and Mead Treadwell, the third Republican candidate, have issued subsequent statements saying that Sullivan's characterization of his record on guns is problematic and raises questions about his credibility. The Alaska Democratic Party and the independent fact-checking website PolitiFact have piled on as well, with PolitiFact rating Sullivan's claim that he passed "stand your ground" as false.
A spokesman for Sullivan said in an interview Monday that Sullivan supported Alaska's "stand your ground" law when he was attorney general in 2010, when the measure failed to get through the state Legislature, and supported it in 2013, when it passed -- and still does now.
The spokesman, Mike Anderson, added that Sullivan's opponents are trying to "spin" the issue.
The dispute dates back to 2010, when Sullivan was the state's attorney general under Gov. Sean Parnell.
At the time, state Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, was trying to pass a "stand your ground" law through the Legislature, and the attorney general's office sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee to express "serious concern" about the measure, which it said would "encourage the needless taking of human life," and contained a section that "authorizes vigilantism."
The letter is sent from Sullivan, though it was written and signed by an assistant attorney general, John Skidmore.
At last month's GOP debate, Miller and Sullivan got into a sharp exchange over the letter, with Miller asking whether it debunked Sullivan's claim that he'd passed the measure.
"We, as a people, we have to get brass tacks," Miller said. "Look at the information, folks, because you're going to hear all sorts of stuff this election season."
Sullivan responded: "It's not my letter," saying that it instead had been written by a "staffer."
Skidmore, the assistant attorney general who wrote the letter, later told a reporter that Sullivan hadn't consulted with him about the legislation, and that it was "unrealistic" to expect an attorney general to personally review each letter from the department.
Anderson, the spokesman for Sullivan, said that the attorney general's office in 2010 had "some issues with the complexity" of the legislation, and worked with Neuman, the sponsor, to improve the bill.
The Sullivan campaign cites a separate, undated letter from Neuman to his constituents that describes how the attorney general's office supported the proposed "stand your ground" law after a simplified, amended version was accepted at a committee hearing.
Neuman, in a phone interview, said that generally, if the office of the governor or the attorney general opposes a bill, "they can usually get it stopped pretty fast."
"That didn't happen," he said.
Miller's campaign, in a recent web posting written by Political Director Matt Johnson, argues that Sullivan's staff continued to point out concerns with the measure after it was simplified. At one hearing, Anne Carpeneti, another assistant attorney general, said she still had concerns with the amended version -- which she said "makes a bad bill better."
And even if Sullivan's office wasn't outright opposing the bill, there's no indication that he actively supported it, Johnson said in an interview.
"When you say you fought to pass the bill, how did you fight to pass the bill?" Johnson said. "It's pretty clear to me that Sullivan's taking liberties he shouldn't be taking with this whole issue."
PolitiFact last week also rated Sullivan's claim that he fought to pass the bill as false, in a posting that was since highlighted by the Alaska Democratic Party, and in a newsletter published by Miller.
Asked if there was any specific evidence that Sullivan had fought to pass the "stand your ground" law, Anderson referred to Neuman's letter describing the support of the attorney general's office for the amended version of the law.
Anderson added in an email: "PolitiFact is nothing more than an arm of the Democratic Party masquerading as journalism." And he noted that a previous PolitiFact post had held Sullivan personally responsible for a bill that had emerged from the state's Department of Natural Resources when he was commissioner of that agency.
(In an email, PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan said: "We're nonpartisan independent fact-checkers who monitor all sides of the political debate, both Democrats and Republicans. Voters who read our reports for themselves come away with a fuller understanding of the issues.")
Treadwell's campaign, meanwhile, sent a fundraising email four days after the debate that highlighted Miller's exchange with Sullivan over the "stand your ground" law.
The email said Treadwell is a "recognized defender of the Second Amendment," and cited the fact that he had at one point received an "A" grade from the National Rifle Association.
A spokesman for the NRA, who appeared at the 2010 committee hearing on the amended "stand your ground" law, did not respond to a request for comment.