Walker and Gara call on Pierce to drop out of governor’s race, Dunleavy says he’s ‘waiting for more facts’

Charlie Pierce, a Republican candidate for governor, at the Governor’s Debate on Resource Development on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Independent Bill Walker and Democrat Les Gara have called on their fellow gubernatorial candidate, Republican Charlie Pierce, to drop out of the race for governor, following a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Pierce on Friday. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has encouraged voters to rank Pierce second in the Nov. 8 election as recently as last week, has not condemned Pierce because he says he is “waiting for more facts to emerge.”

Meanwhile, Pierce’s running mate Edie Grunwald dropped out of the race Tuesday afternoon citing concerns about the sexual harassment suit, and threw her support behind Dunleavy. Pierce told public radio station KDLL that he is not dropping out.

Pierce placed a distant fourth in the primary for Alaska governor in August. In Alaska’s first ranked-choice election for governor, candidates have encouragedr their supporters to rank like-minded candidates as their second pick. Dunleavy and Pierce have done that for each other.

In a series of statements this week, Dunleavy has not withdrawn that support. Instead, he said “it would be inappropriate and unfair to all parties involved to make any snap judgments or draw any conclusions from a complaint filed just days ago.” 

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, running for reelection this November, at the Alaska Federation of Natives candidate forum in Anchorage. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

On Friday, Pierce’s former executive assistant Pamela Wastell filed a lawsuit against Pierce and the Kenai Peninsula Borough alleging “constant unwanted physical touching, sexual remarks, and sexual advances” while Pierce was borough mayor. Before the lawsuit, in July, the borough received a report revealing that Pierce was the subject of a “credible” workplace harassment complaint.

Dunleavy campaign spokesman Andrew Jensen said the governor’s response this week is “neither an endorsement of Mr. Pierce nor a dismissal of the merits of the recent lawsuit.”

In another statement late Tuesday, Jensen wrote Grunwald’s exit means Dunleavy and his running mate Nancy Dahlstrom are “the only viable ticket for voters to choose from.”

Walker and Gara were quick to call on Pierce to drop out of the race and criticized Dunleavy’s middling response. Gara said Dunleavy shouldn’t need more proof to withdraw his support.

“You can’t come any closer to knowing this is a legitimate sexual harassment claim than the city’s own attorney saying that the claims are credible,” Gara said. “So I don’t think the governor can hide behind this argument that he doesn’t know what happened.”

Les Gara, the Democrat running for Alaska governor, at Saturday’s AFN candidate forum. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Walker said he was surprised Dunleavy hadn’t distanced himself further from Pierce.

“When you’re in a position of power, I think you need to make sure that you’re taking the high road on these things and sending a message,” Walker said. “We’re number one in the nation on domestic violence and sexual assault. I think you need to lead by example.”

Former Gov. Bill Walker, the independent running for Alaska governor, at the AFN forum. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

During the 2018 election, Walker’s Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly resigned after he propositioned a woman in an Anchorage hotel. Walker announced Mallott’s resignation the day after Walker said he learned of the incident. Three days later, Walker suspended his campaign, less than three weeks before Election Day.

The candidate withdrawal deadline was almost two months ago. If Pierce drops out, his name will still be on the November ballot. 

Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.