The running mate of Republican governor candidate and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has dropped out of the race — four days after Pierce was sued by a former assistant for sexual harassment.
Edie Grunwald’s name will still appear as a candidate for lieutenant governor, on the ballot next to Pierce’s, since the deadline to drop out of the race has passed. Pierce said in a text message Tuesday that he’s staying in the race.
But Grunwald said she decided that she’s no longer running alongside him.
“My withdrawing is not a reflection of guilt or innocence,” she said. “I really just have to just stand up for the general idea of respectful treatment of women in the workplace.”
Grunwald said she’s encouraging people to vote for incumbent Republican Gov. Dunleavy.
Her decision comes after Pierce’s former executive assistant sued him for sexual harassment, and more than a month after the Kenai Peninsula Borough publicly confirmed for the first time there were “credible” workplace harassment claims made against Pierce. In the lawsuit, the assistant, Pamela Wastell, alleges the harassment from Pierce was “constant” over the year and a half she worked in his office.
Wastell also sued the Kenai Peninsula Borough, since she said there were not sufficient reporting procedures in place for Wastell and other employees to make harassment claims. Attorneys for Pierce and the borough both have declined to comment on the case.
Pierce picked Grunwald, a retired Air Force colonel, to be his running mate in March.
Grunwald lives in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and ran as Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018. She was picked to be chair of the Alaska Parole Board by Dunleavy in 2019 and has been a victims’ rights advocate since her 16-year-old son was kidnapped and killed in Palmer in 2016.
Grunwald said she’s not calling for Pierce to drop out and still believes he’s done a lot to protect Alaskans’ freedoms.
“That’s a decision he’ll have to make,” she said. “But for me, given the content of the report, let the courts work that out. And it’s just a general statement from me that I support the respectful treatment of women.”
Dunleavy, for his part, has previously encouraged his own supporters to rank Pierce and Grunwald second on their ballots. In an email Monday, a spokesperson said the governor would not make any “snap judgments or draw any conclusions from a complaint filed just days ago.” Other current and former candidates for governor have called for Pierce to drop out.
Grunwald said she has no direct knowledge of the instances alleged in the suit. She said she hasn’t been a target of inappropriate behavior from Pierce on the campaign trail.
“98% of his time he’s been with his wife. And the times he hasn’t been, there’s always been other people. And his behavior has always been respectful,” she said.
Pierce has previously declined to answer reporters’ questions about the allegations. In response to request for comment on Tuesday, he said by text: “I am not dropping out of the race and continue to look forward to the November 8th election.”
Absentee ballots have already been mailed out and early voting started Monday, statewide.