I’m a big fan of performance art in politics. There’s a reason satire is on the rise in news coverage. It’s because we live in times where satire feels less like satire and more like what is actually happening. The Lottery, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, and Brave New World are all selling really well right now, and it’s largely because they seem less like one-off dystopian nightmares we can laugh off as incredulous and more like now.
So, when satire feels real, satire away. But satire responsibly.
When you work for the Alaska Democratic Party and decide to conduct a shadow campaign against a candidate with little name recognition in a district that hasn’t swung to the right in over 20 years, that may be ill-advised.
Enter the little known candidate, Chris Cox, a conservative hoping to upset the candidacies of Christopher Constant and David Dunsmore (alongside lesser known contenders Mark Alan Martinson, Albert Langdon Swank Jr., and Warren West) for the lone seat representing Downtown, Government Hill, Fairview, Mountain View, and South Addition. It is the only single-member district in the municipality.
Patrick Flynn has served that post since winning with close to 74 percent in 2008, but is barred from reelection due to term limits.
This year’s April municipal election is a big one. The outgoing Flynn is joined by current Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson, Eagle River Assembly member Bill Starr, and South Anchorage Assembly member Bill Evans (the latter of whom has decided not to run for reelection despite my objection). Additionally, Tim Steele is facing a reelection bid in West Anchorage as is Pete Petersen on the east side of town.
Left-of-center Mayor Ethan Berkowitz currently benefits from a majority supportive of his agenda, but six seats out of 11 up for grabs could mean a substantial swing in power. That sounds a lot more exciting than the reality.
Only one of those seats is really in play. Four more could be, if you squint.
Steele faces a perennial candidate in David Nees. Nees ran for State House last year in the Republican primary and lost. Earlier that year, in April, he ran for school board and lost. He also ran for school board in 2015, State House in 2014, and school board in 2013 and 2012. Lost, lost, lost, lost.
Gray-Jackson has thrown her weight behind Felix Rivera — former campaign manager to Vice Chair Dick Traini. Rivera faces Don Smith, who wades into trouble when he speaks — most notably, during a 2014 run for school board, when he opened his mouth and this fell out: “Today we’re 48 percent white, 52 percent other, and that clearly is causing problems.”
Petersen squares off against Don Jones, who vocally supported Assembly member Amy Demboski’s baseless assertion that a man in Wasilla was stockpiling weapons to use against the government as part of Islamic jihad.
Eagle River and South Anchorage are likely forgone conclusions. Starr — one of the most conservative members to serve on the body in recent memory — will all but certainly be replaced by a conservative. He won with 46 percent of the vote his first election, 70 percent in 2011, and 61 percent in 2014. Former State Senator Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River) and newcomer John Brassell will try to out-conservative one another while Gretchen Wehmhoff will hope for an unlikely upset.
Similarly, the South Anchorage seat has been won by the conservative candidate — even when there are more than one conservatives running — for over 20 years, giving Albert Fogle a considerable edge over Suzanne LaFrance.
The Downtown seat currently occupied by Flynn is the flipside to South Anchorage and Eagle River. It is the most liberal district in Anchorage — if not Alaska. Since 2002, there have been only two representatives: Flynn and the late Allan Tesche. Combined, the lowest percentage of votes they turned out was with Tesche in 2002. And he still won with 66 percent of the vote.
So, if you’re the Democratic Party, maybe leave the downtown race to play itself out and concentrate on other districts, right? There are two strong, left-leaning candidates in Dunsmore and Constant.
Making matters worse for Cox, another conservative, Mark West, is also in the race. Neither of the latter two have reported any contributions.
When Cox filed his candidacy with the municipality, he listed his name, address, email, and campaign website. There was just one problem. He evidently did not own title to the domain name he broadcast into the public record. Someone noticed and decided to troll.
Over the weekend, his site, chriscoxforassembly.com, automatically forwarded users to Planned Parenthood’s website — and, on Monday, to the Human Rights Campaign’s website.
This did not jive with a conservative candidate who posts memes like this to his Facebook page.
So, in that respect, it’s hilarious. Performance art.
There’s just one problem. Domain registration can be looked up. So, I did.
Cox’s advertised domain name was purchased by Matt Greene, the data and technology director for the Alaska Democratic Party.
“Matt went through all of the candidate listings and discovered the the Chris Cox for Assembly website was not only not live, it had never been purchased,” Jay Parmley, executive director for the Alaska Democratic Party, told me Wednesday afternoon. “Originally, it was pointed to Planned Parenthood. They got upset with Chris Cox and they got upset with us, so I talked to his folks and said I would talk to Matt.”
Parmley made clear that the purchase and use of the domain name was done independently and without the counsel or permission of the Party.
“I mean, I realize that it’s connected, but I have asked Matt to try to deal with them and get this matter handled,” he added. “And here’s the rub, the craziness of all of this is, the person that’s doing Chris Cox’s website also does some contract work for Democratic candidates, so we know this person. It’s a nonpartisan race.”
Parmley said that Greene was asked to contact the Cox campaign and resolve the issue. As of Wednesday evening, the site no longer forwarded to either HRC or Planned Parenthood.
Parmley said he’s concentrated on efforts to hold Petersen and Steele’s seats on the Assembly, as well as picking up seats in Eagle River and Anchorage. He said the state party will not weigh in on the Downtown district contest between Dunsmore and Constant (and company) — though the Anchorage Democrats reserve the right to if they so choose.
“I would be really shocked if anyone was endorsed in that race,” he explained. “Chris and David are both well known entities within the Democratic parties, and I don’t think there’s a lot of appetite in that race.”
Constant and Dunsmore both flatly denied any participation in, or knowledge of, the events.
“I just found out about it a couple days ago,” Dunsmore told me via phone. “The only stuff I’ve talked to Matt about my campaign has been database stuff, because that’s his job.”
He said he didn’t know much about Cox, other than the fact that he had displayed a campaign sign for President Donald Trump in his yard during the campaign.
“I think it’s really weird that, I guess, he must have published his website domain without buying it.”
Constant said he’d heard about it, but that was the extent of his knowledge.
“I’m working hard on the campaign trail. Connecting with my neighbors and earning votes,” he said. “It’s really a distraction, but it gave me chuckle. And whoever did this has really good taste in charities to support.”
Cox did not respond to inquiry.