Last Friday, Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat in the U.S. Senate race in Alaska, released a searing TV ad against his Republican opponent, former state attorney general Dan Sullivan. The ad covers, in detail, a 2013 double-murder committed by Jerry Active. According to the ad, the murder happened because Active, who was previously incarcerated, was released from prison early through a 2010 plea deal signed by Sullivan.
In the ad, a 20-year veteran of the Anchorage Police Department tells the audience: “I don’t know how long Dan Sullivan lived in Alaska, but I know what he did as Attorney General: he let a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences.” The retired police sergeant goes on to say that “one of them got out of prison and is now charged with breaking into that apartment building, murdering a senior couple and sexually assaulting their 2-year-old granddaughter.”
No names are used in the Begich campaign ad, but the details were clear enough to prompt Sullivan to use the name of the accused in a response ad: “You may have seen the dishonest ads using Jerry Active’s heinous crimes for political gain. Here’s the truth: the failure that led to Active’s release occurred before I even became attorney general.”
The victim’s family asked the Begich campaign to stop using the details of the murder case for political purposes, and the campaign has pulled in the ad, saying it could return in modified form, suggesting Begich wants to keep the controversy at the center of the debate.
Sullivan is correct that the initial bureaucratic error regarding Active’s record—a failure to classify a 2007 conviction as a felony in the state database—did not happen on Sullivan’s watch during his 2009-2010 stint as Attorney General. Active was arrested again in 2009, and his conviction in 2007 should have triggered a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years in the 2009 conviction, which included the attempt sexual assault of a minor.
Begich is correct that Sullivan and his team failed to catch the mistake, and then Sullivan signed a 2010 plea deal which allowed Active to go free in 2011.
Sullivan’s best defense, articulated by a spokesperson for the current attorney general, is: “It is unreasonable to suggest that any attorney general reviews each pleading filed in court for the state; he or she relies on experienced prosecutors to file these documents.” But blaming the help doesn’t always fly with voters.