Politics

North Slope lawmaker, contradicting earlier testimony, says he wants to continue in election lawsuit

Barrow state Rep. Ben Nageak testified Thursday that he was not seeking to drop his lawsuit challenging his defeat in August's Democratic primary, contradicting a statement he made a day earlier.

Asked by a state lawyer Wednesday if he wanted to remain a party to his election lawsuit, Nageak said no.

On Thursday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi ordered Nageak to testify again to address questions about his participation. And Nageak, phoning in for the second consecutive day, said he did, in fact, want to see the case through, suggesting that background noise had interfered with his testimony the day before.

"I was in a really crowded place yesterday and in the middle of the street. Sirens were blaring. And I'm in a quiet place now," said Nageak, 66. "I don't want to be dropped from the lawsuit."

Nageak's attorney said Thursday he was calling from Seattle, where he was on his way back from a trip to the East Coast.

Nageak, who follows a Bush-Democrat tradition of caucusing with the House's Republican-led majority, filed his lawsuit this month after the state certified challenger Dean Westlake's eight-vote victory in District 40, in northern Alaska, after a recount.

Four local voters joined Nageak's original lawsuit.

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But confusion arose after one of Nageak's attorneys, Tim McKeever, filed a motion asking to amend the original complaint in the case — removing Nageak and replacing him with eight other people, including the former chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, Randy Ruedrich. Nageak testified Thursday that he was unaware that his attorneys had filed that motion.

McKeever then made another filing that kept Nageak in the case, saying Nageak's name had been "inadvertently omitted" from the previous version.

An email made public in one of the state's legal filings suggests McKeever's assertion was not true, however, and that the omission was intentional.

In the email, sent Saturday to state attorneys, McKeever refers to rumors that the state elections director, Josie Bahnke, was telling people that "because we filed a proposed amended complaint in the Superior Court which removed Mr. Nageak as a plaintiff, that he has dropped out of the race."

"The fact that we have asked to amend the complaint in the Superior Court case to name 10 qualified voters who are pursuing the litigation does not mean that Mr. Nageak has withdrawn from the race," wrote McKeever, who appeared to be saying that there was a distinction between Nageak being removed from the lawsuit and conceding the election to Westlake altogether.

Nageak was still named in an appeal of the recount pending before the Alaska Supreme Court, McKeever wrote in his email.

Attorneys for the state and for Westlake, who intervened in both lawsuits, are now arguing that Guidi, the judge, lacks the authority to issue a decision if Nageak is no longer involved in the Superior Court case.

"Without Rep. Nageak, there is no contest," Amodio told Guidi on Thursday.

Guidi said the dispute was worth an interruption to the trial, and he asked the attorneys involved in the case to argue some of their points about Nageak's involvement Thursday morning.

Guidi said he doesn't intend to make a "snap decision" on the issue. And after the attorneys' arguments, the trial, before Guidi without a jury, resumed for its third day, with Ruedrich, the former Republican Party chair, taking the stand.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage-based journalist. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com

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