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Lisa

The Sunday Minefield – September 4, 2022

It’s September! Which mean there’s just over two months until the November general election. The gargantuan news this week was Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Republican Sarah Palin in the special election to replace the late Don Young. The candidate withdrawal deadline for the November election is tomorrow, September 5, at 5 pm. And the races for U.S. Senate and governor are heating up as the major candidates in those races appeared on the same stage for the first time at the Alaska Oil & Gas Association conference.

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Peltola FTW

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Haney

Mary Peltola delivered a resounding blow to not only Sarah Palin but the Republican establishment in Alaska with her special election win on Wednesday. Her win, which allows her to serve out the remainder of the late Don Young’s term that ends in January, upset a nearly 50 year order. A Democrat now holds a seat that was held by a Republican for 49 years.

I got this one very wrong. Like many others, I was shocked by her win simply because Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich got a combined 58% of the vote in a three-way (ranked choice) race. The reason Mary Peltola won is simply because of ranked choice voting. If it was the old system, with her paired against one Republican, she would not have had a path.

The most shocking thing from the results is that 28%, or 15,467, of Begich’s recycled votes went to Peltola. I expected that number to be less than 15%. The distaste or sheer refusal for almost 30% of Begich voters to not vote for Sarah Palin is astounding. Fifty percent, or 27,053, of Begich’s recycled votes did to to Sarah Palin, but that was not enough. Peltola beat Palin by 5,240 votes, or 2.96%. An additional 20.8%, or 11,243, of Begich votes were exhausted, meaning they made no second choice. You can see the breakdown here.

There is one important thing to note about this race. There should have been four candidates, not three. When Independent Al Gross – who was in the top-four and got more votes that Peltola in the special primary election – withdrew from the general, a statutory glitch in the timing of the election resulted in the fifth place finisher, Republican Tara Sweeney, not moving up. And speaking of Al Gross, this tweet, and a lot of the comments are revisionist history. I would wager a bartender in Petersburg might have some thoughts on the matter.

Sweeney finished fourth in the regular primary but withdrew from the general, moving up fifth place finisher Libertarian Chris Bye. The timing glitch that affected the special election doesn’t affect the regular election. However, Bye has raised little money and won’t get many votes. So his impact will be much less than if Al Gross were in the race.

Peltola now has momentum and incumbency on her side. I bet all the Democrats and progressives who were against ranked choice voting are singing a much different tune now. Palin and Begich are showing no signs of calling a truce to try and sway each others voters. In fact, since the results came out on Wednesday they have doubled down on their attacks against one another.

The next two months are going to be wild. National conservative and GOP groups are going to do whatever they can to get a Republican win in November. And national progressive and Democrat groups are going to do whatever they can to keep Peltola in the seat. To her credit, Peltola has been humble about her win and is continuing to do exactly what she has done to get here. We may all be witnessing the birth of a new political powerhouse in Alaska politics.

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DeMars

Big Races Heat Up at AOGA

The main candidates in the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race all appeared on the same stage at the Alaska Oil & Gas Association conference in Anchorage this week. However, it wasn’t a debate but rather a forum. Translation: tame and boring.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska), her main Republican rival Kelly Tshibaka, and Democrat Pat Chesbro were on stage for the Senate race. I guess Republican Buzz Kelley didn’t get the invitation. His presence would have been fun!

Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska), former Governor Bill Walker, an Independent, and former Representative Les Gara, a Democrat, were on stage for the governor’s race. Republican Charlie Pierce was not on stage. You might recall Pierce recently resigned as Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor to “focus on the race for governor.” A crock of shit if there ever was one. I stand by my reporting for the real reason he resigned. In fact, I have recently learned that he has personally hired a lawyer for the mess he is in. Mark my words, this is all going to come out. Suzanne Downing, Michael Dukes, other Pierce defenders, and Pierce himself are all going to look extremely dumb when it does.

Anne Sears Out

Anne Sears, a former State Trooper who came out of retirement in April to head up the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative, is no longer in the job. When she was hired back, the Department of Public Safety and Governor Dunleavy laid out a red carpet for her. They issued this lengthy press release praising her new role. She spoke at a big rally in front of the Capitol during session. But just four months later she is gone. I got it from a tip and contacted DPS to see if it was true. I received this in response:

In late August MMIP Investigator Anne Sears has decided to go back into retirement to spend more time with her family. The Alaska State Troopers are currently working to identify and hire a new MMIP Investigator for this critical role. The investigation of missing persons and murder cases involving Alaska Natives is a top priority for the State of Alaska.

I responded and asked why it was not announced. Which is reasonable considering the fanfare she received in April. Here is what I got in return:

We typically don’t announce the retirement of DPS employees unless they are at the Director level or higher. There has been no external announcement regarding Anne’s retirement. 

There is definitely more to this story.

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Oxford

Other Happenings 

The withdrawal deadline for the general election is tomorrow at 5 pm. Several legislative candidates have dropped a well as Republican Tara Sweeney from the U.S. House race. In addition to the below withdrawals, Republican Joel McKinney and Alaska Constitution Party candidate Richard Beckes both withdrew from the open West Anchorage House race. This results in a heads up match between Democrat Jennie Armstrong and Republican and former Representative Liz Vazquez. Stay tuned for a full list of all the withdrawals and what it means for those races.

This Week’s Loose Unit

 

This week’s designee is pretty simple and to the point. This week’s Loose Unit is the 26,710 voters who voted for Nick Begich first and voted for Mary Peltola or no one second. To be fair, Palin and Begich deserve an honorable mention this week for going after one another so hard the last few months. This profound lack of understanding of ranked choice voting was so loose it resulted in a Democrat winning a statewide race in Alaska for the first time since 2008. (Technically Byron Mallott was a Democrat in 2014 but that was the “Unity Ticket” thing and there was no Democratic gubernatorial candidate). Plus it’s the first time a Democrat has occupied Alaska’s sole congressional seat in nearly half a century! Very loose indeed.

If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at [email protected]

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Lynn Willis
21 days ago

So, those who actually voted their choice are “loose units” and don’t understand how to vote? I suggest they knew exactly what they were doing. Is it just possible that in the election to finish Don Young’s term the best candidate won? I thought Palin wouldn’t have been in the race had we had the traditional closed Republican primary when the party only offered Begich as they did with Joe Miller. You might well have seen Murkowski ver. 2.0 in that event anyway.

Some guy
21 days ago
Reply to  Lynn Willis

It’s my opinion the best candidate won but I also think people could be described as loose unit by how they vote. Refer to the definition of loose unit above. I find it hard to believe that 28% of Begich supporters voted for Peltola and I’m even more astounded that there was enough begich supporters unwilling to rank anyone second. I feel like we dodged a bullet by not electing Palin or even begich, but don’t kid yourself, they’ve got a second shot. I hope Peltola is “the one” and can bend over backwards to help us dodge another bullet.… Read more »

Rick G
21 days ago

You need to review what Rank Choice Voting is. RCV or not, Peltola would have won. It was the open primaries that allowed two worthless republicans to be on the same ticket. Open primaries and RCV are different. You should know and understand that if you are going to report on politics.

Erik Wassell
20 days ago
Reply to  Rick G

It wasn’t the open primary that allowed Pertola to win.

A. Al Gross dropping out had a huge effect. If he had stayed in, most likely he would have split Pertola’s votes, and neither would have made Round 2.

B. Hatred for Palin was the other factor. We can’t see how many people who voted for Palin first chose Begich second, but it’s a safe bet it was *a lot* more than those who chose Begich first and Palin second.

Dan
20 days ago
Reply to  Erik Wassell

A. Only one candidate can fail to advance to Round 2.

People seem to be assuming that bullet voting is a common voter strategy. There are reasons to expect that Begich voters are significantly more likely to be bullet voters than any other voter.

There is definitely a weakness in RCV, that the two candidates most lkely to win (Peltola and Begich) are also the candidates most likely to be eliminated. But, that weakness is not mitigated by a traditional primary/general approach.

Rick G
19 days ago
Reply to  Erik Wassell

Agree that Gross dropping out helped Peltola, but that wasn’t RCV or open primaries, just one candidate deciding, for whatever reason, to give it up. With the previous system it is likely that Palin would never have been on the ballot in the first place. So, there’s that.

Caleb
21 days ago

Actually, under our prior election laws, there would not have been a primary election for the “special election” to fill the vacated house seat. The parties authorized to have candidates on the ballot would have named their candidate. ie; the 17 person steering committee for the republicans would have named their choice, probably Nick cubed, and ditto the dems, probably an individual from the anchorage area. And that would have been the voters choice for the special election, handpicked by the “elites.” Doubting that Sarah would have tried a write-in effort, if it was even allowed.

wlmleitch
21 days ago

haha – Jeff, you got way wrong; are you sure YOU understand ranked choice voting? 15,000 + people probably did as I did, asking themselves the following question: “who is my top pick to serve in DC, who is my last pick nightmare to serve, and who by default is in the middle?”
Easy to understand

Some guy
21 days ago
Reply to  wlmleitch

What about the 11,000 people who voted for begich only and refused to rank?

Erik Wassell
20 days ago
Reply to  Some guy

Palin received 64% of the Begich 2nd place votes. Even if she got 64% of those who didn’t pick a second choice, she still would have lost by 3000 votes.

Some guy
20 days ago
Reply to  Erik Wassell

Palin lost by 5,240 votes. 64% of 11,243 (the number of exhausted ballots which chose Begich as the only choice) 7,195.52. Let’s round that down to 7,195 since there is no such thing as a half vote. You may want to check my math but if I’m right then by your argument plain would have actually one by nearly 2,000 votes.

Some guy
20 days ago
Reply to  Some guy

Excuse me, what I meant to say was won by nearly 2000 votes.

Last edited 20 days ago by Some guy
Dan
20 days ago
Reply to  Some guy

Some guy: While Palin would have picked up 7,195 votes, by your presumption, what happens to the other 36% of Begich’s bullet votes? Shouldn’t we provisionally apply those 4,000 votes to Peltola.

Palin has now picked up just over 3,000 votes and still lost by 2,000 votes. (Disclaimer: math is in my head, so not precise.)

Some guy
20 days ago
Reply to  Dan

I suppose so.

Dan
20 days ago
Reply to  Dan

If all Begich bullet voters were forced to vote for either Palin or Peltola, ~73% of those voters must vote for Palin for her to win. I really don’t understand why we would assume that 73% of voters who actually refused to vote for Palin would do so if you forced them to vote.

People are assuming a VERY STRONG partisan lean in a state that has proven over and over to not really hew closely to partisan expectations.

Dan
20 days ago

I might propose the true Loose Unit is Division of Elections. It’s Sep. 6 and they still haven’t released the crosstabs – whic will reveal that if Palin dropped out Begich would have beat Peltola.

Data is good. Release it. Now.

Older Timer
20 days ago

Mary has always had a sphere of influence, Jeff; perhaps it’s just you that doesn’t have the history or the connections to know about Mary’s presence in Alaska politics prior to this.

Shelia
19 days ago

I think that RCV will produce a number of unintended results. First, Peltola was a strong candidate and fellow native Tara Sweeney bowing out helped Mary immensely. RCV, however, does have a number of things that can be done that will cancel out the majority. One of these things is to run two fairly strong candidates like Walker and Gara one one side, whose combined vote totals match the stronger candidate (Dunleavy) and whose voters will rank them 1 and 2. Walker’s law firm gave money to both candidates, and since they are both leaning left, it stands to reason… Read more »

Dan
19 days ago
Reply to  Shelia

Sheila: I’m not sure how running two similar candidates “cancels out the majority” if voters rank them 1-2. The more acurate criticism of RCV seems to be that a candidaye with a significant loyal constituancy but also with very high negatives can squeeze out a widely acceptable candidate with a similar partisan profile.