Army vet ruled ineligible for state office due to homelessness
Anchorage Daily News
A Republican House candidate who claims to have been homeless and living in the back of her pickup while dodging the cops in Muldoon has been ruled ineligible for office on residency grounds.
Barbara Bachmeier, seeking the Republican nomination for House District 13, will have to go to court if she wants to challenge the decision of the director of the Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai. With ballots due to be printed this week and mailed to overseas Alaskans by the weekend, the time for a challenge is short, Fenumiai said Tuesday.
Bachmeier, a real estate agent and Army veteran who says she has a stress-related disability, now owns her own home in the district, which also includes a portion of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
But for about two of the 12 months necessary to establish her residency in the district, she said she lived in a camper shell on the back of her truck with two cats and a third "service animal" of a species she wouldn't identify.
"I knew I could run for the House and represent these people well because I have experienced homelessness as a product of the VA not helping me," she said.
Fenumiai said public records showed Bachmeier was registered to vote in Juneau or living at one or two other homes in other House districts in Anchorage during that time.
The records support Bachmeier's residency in District 13 starting Aug. 4, 2011, but that's more than two months short, Fenumiai said. She would have had to have lived there starting June 1, 2011, when she filed for office at the deadline.
While some candidates are denied ballot certification based on residency, it's rare for the state to remove candidates who have already been certified for the ballot as Bachmeier was, Fenumiai said. It hasn't happened at all in the four years she's been director, and she said her staff could recall no such decertification for at least another four years.
The complaint to remove Bachmeier was filed by an Anchorage lawyer, Scott Kendall, on behalf of two Alaska voters, Scott Smestad of Anchorage and John Nelson of Soldotna.
Smestad, a registered Republican, is listed by the city as vice chairman of the Northeast Community Council. Public records show Nelson moved to Alaska in 2009 and also registered as a Republican, mainly voting absentee since then.
In an interview, Smestad said he had never met Nelson. He said he got the information on Bachmeier from "somebody," who he declined to identify.
Bachmeier said she believed the complaint was orchestrated by the other Republican seeking the seat, Gabrielle LeDoux, a non-practicing lawyer who herself moved into the district three years ago after serving two terms in the House from Kodiak.
LeDoux wasn't talking.
"I actually don't think that's a relevant question," LeDoux said. "I think the only important question is whether or not Barbara Bachmeier was constitutionally eligible to run in this district. And the Division of Elections found that she had not lived in the district long enough. You know, somebody tried to get away with something, but the division didn't let them do it."
Kendall wasn't answering questions either.
"I can't comment on my attorney-client communications," Kendall said.
If Bachmeier's decertification stands, it will spare LeDoux a primary fight, leaving her free to focus on her general election opponent, Democrat Hal Gazaway, also a lawyer.
"Everybody prefers to have one election rather than two," LeDoux said.
Gazaway said the turn of events was ironic since LeDoux was questioned about her residency when she ran two years ago. Gazaway said he's lived in the district since 1999.
The district, created by redistricting, has no incumbent.
Fenumiai said the state has no restrictions on homeless individuals registering and voting, and they could use that registration as proof of residency in seeking office. The homeless are asked to establish residency by where they sleep, she said. That could be a shelter or a park, she said.
Bachmeier, a frequent participant at community meetings and political gatherings in Anchorage, said she thought Fenumiai would allow her additional time to prove her residency.
Fenumiai said she initially gave Bachmeier two weeks to respond, then added another seven days, but never heard back. Her final determination stripping Bachmeier from the ballot was dated July 2.
Bachmeier said she decided to move to the Muldoon neighborhood because it was close to Elmendorf. As a lieutenant colonel who retired from the Army in 2000, she can shop on base. She also uses the VA clinic and the base recreational facilities, she said.
But with all her animals, she was unable to find an apartment. Experienced at being homeless when she lived in Juneau, she decided to live in her truck until she could find a place to buy, she said.
"So I was homeless, I was living in the back of my pickup, which I would move. I know how to do it, I know how not to get arrested," she said. "There's space. I could have my pets and my service animals with me."