Friction between two Anchorage Assembly candidates in the South Anchorage race has escalated over endorsements, with both candidates accusing the other of misleading voters on mailed campaign flyers.
A local political group, Anchorage Democrats, said candidate Rachel Ries distributed campaign literature “falsely claiming” her opponent, Zac Johnson, is endorsed by the group.
And Ries has accused Johnson’s campaign of hoodwinking voters into believing he’s been endorsed by the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association by using its logo on one of his mailed flyers. Johnson is instead endorsed by the APDEA Political Action Committee, which is overseen by a separate board.
One of Ries’ campaign flyers, mailed to voters in South Anchorage, featured the Anchorage Democrats’ logo with the word “endorsed” above it, appearing like a sticker atop a photo of opponent Zac Johnson.
Johnson said he hasn’t been endorsed by the group, and its president, Michelle Turner also said that the group has not endorsed Johnson.
“Candidates must complete a rigorous questionnaire to gain the endorsement of the Anchorage Democrats, and Zac Johnson did not solicit or receive our endorsement,” Turner said in a news release.
Ries said the group is “splitting hairs” because Alaska Democrats have expressed clear support for Johnson, referring to an email sent by the Alaska Democratic Party.
The email featured a list of the candidates that Anchorage Democrats have endorsed for Assembly and school board, which did not include Johnson. Just below that list, the email said, “The Alaska Democratic Party recommends supporting Zac Johnson.”
Anchorage Democrats is looking into taking formal action with the Alaska Public Offices Commission against Ries, Turner said.
“I’ve been fielding calls from members confused by the mailer,” said Turner. “We take our endorsement process seriously, and spreading false information like this undermines voters’ ability to make choices based on facts.”
Johnson declined to participate in any political party endorsement process, said Johnson’s campaign manager, Ira Slomski-Pritz of the Ship Creek Group.
“They’re trying to bamboozle the people that he’s conservative when he’s not, and we know it,” Ries said. “And we’re gonna capitalize on it. And if he didn’t want us to do that, he shouldn’t have hid it, sorry. They capitalize on things I say — that’s politics.”
Johnson said he was not trying to fool voters, saying of the accusation, “that’s a little disingenuous.”
A candidate generally solicits an endorsement from a group, then goes through a vetting process, and there’s a mutual agreement between the parties — one is offering endorsement and the other is accepting it, Johnson said, contending that support is different than an endorsement. (Assembly candidate Brian Flynn made a similar argument about Mayor Dave Bronson; Bronson has supported his campaign but the mayor has not given Flynn a formal endorsement.)
“The fact is, is anyone can support anyone. They didn’t reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, how do you feel about this email?’ before they sent it,” Johnson said. “Frankly, it’s their prerogative if they want to make that recommendation, just like anyone’s entitled to support whatever candidate they want.”
Johnson, who said he is nonpartisan, has endorsements from several union groups, as well as Republican state Sen. Cathy Giessel and independent Rep. Calvin Schrage. Some sitting Assembly members have also expressed support and donated to Johnson’s campaign, including South Anchorage’s Suzanne LaFrance, current Assembly Chair, and Vice Chair Christopher Constant, who is running for reelection in North Anchorage.
“I’m proud of the fact that I generally have a message that’s pretty appealing to both sides of the aisle,” Johnson said. “I just never been a party loyalist one way or the other so wasn’t about to change that, especially not when I’m running for a nonpartisan seat in a nonpartisan election to deal with nonpartisan issues.”
Ries said that Johnson’s campaign donation reports filed with the state show many left-aligned and Democratic politicians and voters supporting Johnson.
“It’s an endorsement and we all know it. If you support me, or you tell me you like me, and you give me money — people are going to walk away with the impression that you’re endorsing me. This is campaigning, that’s how that works,” Ries said.
Ries herself is endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party and a mix of more conservative politicians including Mayor Dave Bronson, South Anchorage Assembly member Randy Sulte and Eagle River/Chugiak member Kevin Cross.
She said Johnson has misled voters by misrepresenting his endorsement from the police union’s PAC by using the logo belonging to the union itself.
“Lied about being endorsed by the police union? Refuses to fix it?” she said in a social media post to her campaign page, featuring a photo of the flyer.
The flyer states that Johnson is “the only candidate endorsed by first responders.”
Below that, it features the logos of the Anchorage Firefighters Union, IAFF Local 1264, and APDEA’s logo, with “Anchorage Police Department Employees Association Pac” written below the logo.
Ries said a member of the APDEA board contacted her about the issue, upset.
APDEA board president Sgt. Darrell Evans said the PAC name written below the logo made clear the correct endorsement.
Board members spoke to the Johnson campaign and they acknowledged the mistake and “agreed moving forward that they would use the correct logos that we had given them,” Evans said.
Evans said APDEA PAC has a logo that’s similar to the APDEA logo, but slightly different.
“So that’s the logo that we had asked to them to use. And by mistake they used the logo that you see on that flyer,” said Evans.
The APDEA has an executive board that hasn’t endorsed candidates in this year’s race. A separate board overseeing its associated political action committee has endorsed candidates, including Johnson, and financially supported others, Evans said.
Slomski-Pritz said the campaign used the wrong logo on the flyer by mistake, but had used the correct logo on its website and other communications.
Ries said the Johnson campaign should have acknowledged the mistake in official communications and on social media.
“There’s been no public announcement about that. Facebook posts are free. So are Twitter posts. They’re free. Just make one. They should have done that right up front,” Ries said.