Suzanne Downing

Suzanne Downing

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Downing and her husband purchased a house in Florida in 2019, which would have made her 2020 filing for Alaska's PFD problematic. The purchase took place in 2020Her 2021 application for a Florida Homestead Exemption would only have created a direct conflict with her Alaska PFD filing if she had filed for the 2021 PFD, which Downing said she has not. We apologize for the error.

By The Blue Alaskan

Suzanne Downing’s image in Alaska is everything to her and she has carefully crafted that image. Her website and business, ‘Must Read Alaska’, was once the Alaska GOP newsletter used by the Alaska Republican Party to lob questionably sourced attack articles on political opponents.

In 2016, the Midnight Sun blog noted that the Alaska GOP “appeared to be distancing itself from the publication,” and that Suzanne Downing listed herself as Editor at Must Read Alaska and not as the Communication Director of the Alaska Republican Party during that time.

Downing writes of herself on the Must Read Alaska website that she “moved to Alaska in 1969,” a statement that is widely regarded as true. Downing has not, however, remained in Alaska consistently, just like many other Alaskans who travel out of state to escape the winter, or for various other reasons.

As Downing was taking Must Read Alaska in a “new direction,” in 2016, her fellow Save Anchorage alumnus and former Alaska journalist Maria Athens wrote that Downing was leaving Alaska: 

“Alaska Republican Party Spokesperson Suzanne Downing is set to leave her position, following November’s elections, according to published reports. Downing intends to maintain her political blog ‘Must Read Alaska’. The GOP Spokeswoman’s husband has accepted a position in Florida. However, Downing will preserve her in-state residency, and will spend a portion of her time in the Last Frontier.”

On the same day Athens made note of Downing’s transition to Florida — July 21, 2016 — the Florida Times Union noted that Downing’s husband Patrick Yack had accepted a job as the executive director of Florida Public Broadcasting service.

Homestead Exemption

In July 2020, Downing and her husband purchased a home in Tallahassee, Florida. As part of that purchase, the previous homeowner had been granted a Homestead Exemption which carried over when Downing and her husband made their purchase in 2020.

The Homestead Exemption appears under the Exempt Value line as $50,000.

According to the Leon County Property Appraiser, you qualify for the Homestead Exemption:

“If you own and occupy property in Leon County and the property must be your permanent residence as of January 1st you may qualify for homestead exemption which could reduce the assessed value of your property by up to $50,000, resulting in a tax savings of approximately $800 annually.”

Individuals who file for the Homestead Tax Exemption must spend a majority of their time in the State of Florida to qualify as residents and receive the Homestead Tax Exemption.

The Leon County Property Appraiser (LCPA) confirmed that Downing/Yack applied for a new Homestead Exemption on March 1, 2021 for tax year 2021.

Yesterday, April 1, 2021, Downing wrote on the Must Read Alaska Facebook page:

“I told Florida that I maintain my residency here and have a business here and they granted me the exemption anyway. I did not file for the PFD.”

We reached out to the LCPA via phone seeking to clarify Downing’s comment that she informed Florida of her Alaska residency.

LCPA Supervisor Ken Preston told us that Downing/Yack wrote on their recently filed March 1, 2021 Homestead Exemption Application, that Downing “Own(s) an Alaskan business and a vehicle there (Alaska).”

When we asked the supervisor specifically whether Downing gave any indication on her application that she was an Alaska resident, Preston said that other than the statement provided on the Homestead Exemption application, the answer was, “no.”

Furthermore, the LCPA supervisor said that the Homestead Exemption Application requires applicants to list their Florida Drivers License number on their application. Downing did not list a Florida drivers license according to the supervisor, but did provide a 7-digit number likely to be her Alaska drivers license number. Preston could not confirm the number provided was, in fact, her Alaska drivers license number. In the event Downing does not have a Florida drivers license, the supervisor tells us that she “would be required to complete a separate Permanent Resident Affidavit form.”

In response to an anonymous complaint made last month to the Leon County Property Appraiser, Preston says his office sent a “certified fraud letter” to Downing’s Florida address on March 31, 2021. That letter asks recipients to provide information such as where they reside, to confirm their physical address and confirm their Florida drivers license number among other details. It is sent anytime a question is raised regarding an applicant’s residency status, he said.

Downing’s Homestead Exemption application for tax year 2021 in the state of Florida is now in “pending” status, according to the LCPA supervisor.

One cannot be a full-time resident of two states at the same time, and Downing admits to having applied for and received the Homestead Exemption in Florida, which requires full-time residency in that state. 

To have filed for last year’s PFD, which Downing did ahead of the deadline, which was extended to April 30 due to inconveniences caused by the pandemic, one would have had to have agreed to the following statement in the application process:

“On the date I apply for the 2020 Permanent Fund Dividend, I have the intent to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely.”

That raises the question, did Downing intend to remain an Alaskan resident indefinitely when she filed for last year’s PFD in the same 6-month window in which she purchased her Florida home? It seems a valid question as the Warranty Deed was made on July 1, 2020 and recorded in the public records of Leon County, Florida on July 10, 2020 at 11:43 a.m.

How long between the PFD filing deadline of April 30 and when the sale closed on July 1 was she ‘intending’ to purchase a home in Florida?

Somewhere In Alaska

On March 28, 2021, a reader on Facebook asked where Downing lived, and she responded:

“Fair question. I live in Alaska. I am a 1972 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School and have lived most of my life here, mostly Juneau, but now Anchorage. I founded Must Read Alaska in 2015, and appreciate you being a reader.”

It is this kind of answer that inflames Downing’s critics, especially since Downing has filed for a tax exemption in Florida, which requires full-time residency in the state, and yet she contends that she lives in Alaska where her blog Must Read Alaska makes its home. But Downing, who says she has had “careers in business and journalism,” ostensibly knows how the use of the word “lived” plays. Downing’s ties to Florida have been well known for years, even if she’s not quick to admit them to her readers.

Downing’s LinkedIn Profile lists “the greater Anchorage area” and “somewhere in Alaska,” as her location — phrases many critics find to be intentionally vague. As a result of that vagueness, many have questioned Downing’s Alaska ties over the years, but perhaps most notably when Downing’s planned departure from the state of Alaska was written about in 2016, even after news outlets noted that Downing planned to “preserve her in-state residency.”

Adding to Downing’s critics’ concerns about her residency, are previous ties to Florida when she served as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In a March 10, 2008 Bainbridge Notebook article written by Althea Paulson, she notes that she and Downing had exchanged emails and that Downing updated Paulson about her life from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. Paulson also wrote that Downing had “moved south in 2000, doing stints as editor of the Augusta Chronicle and editorial page writer for the Florida Times-Union.”

Downing voted in the ongoing Anchorage municipal election, according to municipal data.

Based in Alaska, lives in Alaska, resides in Alaska — they all give the illusion that Downing is an Alaska resident when clearly she is not at this point, hence her not filing for an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend this year. Regardless of how cautious Downing has been, there will almost certainly be questions about her Alaska residency in past years based solely on the basis of her travels in and out of the state.

The speculation surrounding Downing’s Alaska residency are creations of her own. 

She has created a following who either love her or hate her. Downing can do no wrong by the Right and has so vilified the Left that it seems unlikely anyone’s feelings will change anytime soon.

To both groups, she needs to come forward and state, for the record, which state is her home.

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