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Online feud erupts between Alaska GOP and ex-spokesman over 'lurid rumors'

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 11, 2016

JUNEAU — An online and talk radio skirmish has broken out between the Alaska Republican Party and a former party spokesman-turned-political-blogger, with the blogger accusing party leaders of condoning the spread of "unconfirmed and lurid rumors."

The dispute centers on a newsletter published late last month by the current Republican Party spokeswoman, Suzanne Downing, who's supervised by the party's vice chair, Frank McQueary.

Downing's newsletter referenced an unconfirmed, rumored affair between a male state legislator and a female aide who had recently given birth. In what sounded like a double entendre, the newsletter said the aide had "labored heavily" for the Democratic lawmaker.

In a subsequent post on his blog, The Midnight Sun, Casey Reynolds, a former GOP spokesman, accused Downing of "slut-shaming" and said he literally fell out of his chair "from the sheer weight of disgust" he felt when reading her post.

Reynolds also referenced past party postings that referred to a judge who recently ruled against party leaders as a "judicial pipsqueak," and to Gov. Bill Walker's administration as a "hermaphrodite." (Walker was a lifelong Republican before giving up his registration to run for governor as an independent with support from the Democratic party.)

The postings, Reynolds argued, mean the state's Republican leaders "either agree with this type of smear strategy or are too cowardly to speak up about it."

Reynolds' comments drew a sharp counterattack from the party, which called his post a "hatchet job" and said The Midnight Sun is a "surrogate tool of the Alaska Democratic Party," since the blog's business is handled by Jim Lottsfeldt, a political consultant and lobbyist with close ties to Democrats.

"Although he is a registered Republican and was once associated with our party, we must part ways with Mr. Reynolds and disavow him," the Republicans' statement quoted McQueary as saying.

By Friday, Reynolds had removed his post, subsequently writing that his original piece had achieved its intended purpose by prompting apologies to the female legislative aide from party leaders, as well as a change in tone to the Republicans' newsletter. Another reason, he said, was that the legislator and the aide didn't want the story to persist on the Internet.

Reynolds said in a phone interview Friday that it was "regrettable" he named the legislator and aide in his original post — though, he added, not as regrettable as the original GOP newsletter.

"I was simply pointing out to everybody who reads my blog and the political sphere what had happened and why it's a problem," Reynolds said. "I don't know any way to have done that without pointing out what was done, and their names were part of that."

McQueary and Downing, meanwhile, continued to blame Reynolds for amplifying the Republicans' initial post, even as they offered no evidence to support the rumor about the legislator and aide — neither of whom would comment.

"Everybody knows that in politics you've got to have thick skin, and Lord only knows I do," Downing told talk radio host Michael Dukes on Friday. "The real outrage ought to be at what Casey wrote."

In a phone interview Friday, McQueary acknowledged he had "no way of knowing" whether the rumor about the affair was real.

"If I knew it were true, it wouldn't have been that kind of tongue-in-cheek thing," McQueary said. "I feel terrible that the political response to that comment has done such damage to a relative innocent."

But, he added: "To the extent that people have tried to capitalize on it politically to damage the GOP, I have no apology to them, because they're the culprits."

McQueary said Reynolds was "absolutely not" neutral, citing his business relationship with Lottsfeldt.

"We know who funds him," McQueary said.

Reynolds said Friday, however, that Lottsfeldt has "no input" into his blog postings.

One GOP elected leader, meanwhile, was reluctant to wade into the dispute. Senate President Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, said the content of Downing's newsletter was "her prerogative."

"Whether it's appropriate or not, I'm not sure," he said in an interview Friday. "It's a blog."

"I don't know why we're talking about this," Meyer added, suggesting a reporter's time Friday would be better spent writing about a health care reform bill that unanimously passed the Senate.

As for the three candidates seeking to replace Peter Goldberg, the party's current chairman, two of them — Ann Brown and Tuckerman Babcock — wouldn't say whether they'd preserve the tart tone of the party's newsletter.

The third candidate, Ric Davidge, said flatly he wouldn't condone the kind of suggestion Downing included in her newsletter about the aide and the legislator.

"This kind of stuff has no room in partisan publications. We're here to find, support, develop and elect good, conservative candidates. Period," Davidge said in a phone interview. "Party members getting involved in all of this other stuff forget that this is not a social organization. This is not a club. This is a political party."