With a year before Alaska’s new single primary (364 days to be exact as the 2022 primary will be held on August 16), the race for governor is starting to heat up. Incumbent Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) announced his candidacy last week. Up until that point the only person who had filed was Libertarian Billy Toien. Former Democratic Representative Les Gara said last month that he is considering a run, but has yet to officially file.
Yesterday, just three days after Dunleavy filed, former Alaska Governor Bill Walker filed a letter of intent to run for governor as an Independent. An official press release was released today. Interestingly, the media contact is former Republican Representative Chuck Kopp, who was part of a bipartisan House coalition from 2019-2021. Kopp was defeated last year in the Republican primary.
A key difference in next year’s gubernatorial election is the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a team on a ticket. This is the result of Ballot Measure 2, which changed our election system to a single primary (everyone runs in one primary instead of party primaries) and then a top-4 ranked choice general. In the past, candidates ran in party primaries or as petition candidates, and then teamed up after the primary. Walker announced Heidi Drygas will be his running mate. Drygas served as Walker’s labor commissioner while he was governor. Since 2020, she has worked as a lobbyist for organized labor.
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Dunleavy told Alaska Public Media that he is running with his current Lieutenant Governor, Kevin Meyer (R – Alaska). Though he did not sound enthusiastic about it. Without a separate race for lieutenant governor, candidates will be able to spend more time focusing on the general election strategy. Which is going to be something all of the campaigns will be figuring out how to navigate. The top four vote getters in the primary will advance to the ranked choice general. Depending on how many candidates run in the primary, and how serious they are, it may end up being difficult to predict which candidates will make it to the general election.
In addition to Gara possibly entering the race, Dr. Al Gross also appears to be exploring a run. Gross, a progressive who ran as an Independent in the Democratic primary, unsuccessfully challenged Senator Dan Sullivan (R – Alaska) last year. And there will surely be at least someone who runs to the right of Dunleavy. Just who makes it to the general will play a big factor in the outcome. To win a ranked choice election, a candidate needs to get 50% of the vote plus one. If a candidate fails to get that on the first round, the candidate who got the least votes is eliminated and their second place votes are redistributed to the remaining three candidates. If someone does still not have a majority, it happens again.
Think about the following hypothetical scenario. After a packed primary, Dunleavy/Meyer, Walker/Drygas, Gross/Galvin, and Reinbold/Eastman advance to the ranked choice general. Does anyone get 50% plus one on the first round? Highly unlikely. Frustrated conservatives might vote for Reinbold/Eastman over Dunleavy/Meyer, but most of them would make Dunleavy/Meyer their second choice. While Gross/Galvin would get the support of many progressives, most of those voters would make Walker/Drygas their second choice. So, the question is who gets the least votes? Probably Gross/Galvin, but it could also be Reinbold/Eastman. And if no one has a majority after the last place votes are recycled, it would be anyone’s guess who would win.
These kind of scenarios will be played out a lot in the next year. And with campaign season officially underway, get ready to hear a lot more about the dividend, future of the Permanent Fund, social issues, national issues, and just about anything you can imagine. While the race for governor is starting to heat up, it’s lukewarm compared what next summer will bring.