Last election cycle, state legislator Mia Costello’s opponents falsely alleged that she didn’t actually live in the Sand Lake neighborhood of Anchorage that she represents. Now, it’s déjà vu in the district, with similar charges being levied against a new candidate.
There’s a pretty lengthy paper trail suggesting that Republican candidate Sherri Jackson may not live in District 22. The Casper Court house she owns is located on the wrong side of Jewel Lake Road, putting it in a neighboring district. The senior housing facility where Jackson works is listed as her place of residence. Her 2013 fishing license has Casper Court on it, and so does the absentee ballot she cast in November 2012.
Jackson’s opponent in the Republican primary, Liz Vazquez, is so convinced that Jackson can’t run in the district that she hired a lawyer to pursue the claim and handle inquiries on the residency matter.
“The thought that she actually lives at her employer’s house, which is a half mile from her actual residence that she’s owned for 15 years, is farcical to say the least,” says attorney Scott Kendall.
The Vazquez campaign alleges that Jackson changed her voter registration to her employer’s address after redistricting maps were finalized last July, and her Casper Court home was sliced out of that area – the idea being it would be easier for her to run in for office in that neighborhood. Rumors to that effect began circulating on Facebook this week.
Vazquez complained to the Division of Elections in June, but they missed the deadline to challenge Jackson’s candidacy at that point. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai dismissed their complaint, and Vazquez chose not to appeal the decision in court because of the cost.
But had Vazquez submitted the complaint in time, Fenumiai would have initiated an investigation and judged Jackson’s residency by this metric:
“What we ask somebody who say is — like I’m going to use a homeless person for this example – we say, ‘Where do you sleep at night?’ And they tell us where they sleep,” says Fenumiai. “That is where we consider their residence is for voter registration.”
So, I went to find out where Sherri Jackson sleeps. Jewel Lake Plaza is right at the edge of District 22. It’s got more than a dozen apartments for low-income seniors with Section-8 vouchers. To enter, you have to be buzzed in, and Mark and Sherri Jackson’s names are at the top of the directory.
MARK JACKSON: Hello?
GUTIERREZ: Hi, is this Mark Jackson?
GUTIERREZ: Hi, My name is Alexandra Gutierrez, and I am looking for Sherri.
JACKSON: Well, she’s working tonight.
Even though his wife’s out, Mark Jackson invites me in for a look. The place is furnished; the refrigerator is covered in magnets and photos; and there are “Sherri Jackson for State House” signs in the window.
“I don’t know how you would assume that we don’t live here from having a stack full of books, plants, and everything else that goes in a house. This is where we live,” says Mark. “But I do own a house over on Casper, but my children live there.”
Mark explains that Sherri is the on-site representative at Jewel Lake Plaza, and that they moved there two years ago as part of the job. Their kids are in their twenties, so they let them occupy the Casper Court home.
As I’m about to leave, Sherri arrives. She says she’s aware of the residency complaint, but doesn’t put stock into it.
“I’m not going to put myself or my family in a situation that is under such scrutiny that you make a fool of yourself,” says Sherri Jackson. “It’s not worth it.”
She shows me a letter from September 2012 documenting their move, and we talk to a Jewel Lake Plaza resident who vouches for the Jacksons as neighbors.
Jackson admits that her paperwork could raise some eyebrows. She says that because the Casper Court property is still in her name, she would sometimes use it instead of her post office box. She adds that she used the Casper Court address on the 2012 absentee ballot because she had just moved and she and her husband were traveling for a family illness.
“I guess it could look bad in a way, but that’s the reality of my situation,” says Jackson. “You know, a lot of time people don’t put addresses in until they settle down.”
House District 22 is currently represent by Republican Mia Costello. Costello is vacating the seat to run for the State Senate, but when she was up for reelection last year, she also had her residency questioned.
“Maybe it’s in the water! Yeah, Mia went through hell on that, too,” says Jackson. “I remember sharing with her, ‘Just hold your head up.’”
Jackson believes her situation is comparable to Costello’s and sees the residency allegation as a politically motivated attack.
“I don’t really know how she could really be confused. I mean, I would never have stepped out and run for public office not living in the district. So, I’m not sure what that really means – that she’s concerned maybe? It smells as if there’s maybe a concern in the air around her race.”
Jackson does not plan to withdraw from the Republican primary. While state statute does not allow people to claim “temporary work sites” for their residency, Jackson thinks her situation qualifies as permanent.
Vazquez attorney Scott Kendall still believes that Jackson shouldn’t be eligible to run.
“I guess I’m far from convinced based on the fact that she was simply there and had stuff there. Certainly, since filing in May of this year she’s had plenty of time to occupy a unit there. Again, she’s not entitled to live there but for working there, so it is her work site.”
This isn’t the first controversy over election rules in District 22 this campaign cycle. The Republican primary was initially supposed to be a three-way race, but David Nees’ candidacy was rejected because of paperwork problems.
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