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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – November 6, 2022

The general election is just two days away! According to the Division of Elections, more than 64,000 Alaskans have already early voted in-person or voted by absentee. It’s definitely going to be a high turnout election. This is the first time three statewide races have been on the ballot since 2014. And throw in redistricting and ranked choice voting, this makes for quite the election. Stay tuned for an article on our picks for all 62 races (three statewide, 59 legislative) and the constitutional convention question. As usual, campaigns are getting loose and creative with mail and radio ads in the final days leading up to the election.

Don’t forget to tune into our live election coverage on Tuesday nigh starting at 7:30 pm! I will be joined by Mark BegichCharisse Millett, Ivan Moore, and Matt Shuckerow. We will have results, analysis, candidate interviews, and on-site coverage of campaign parties. Check out this great promo video made by Cale Green.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. We are working hard to provide in-depth election coverage for all of the ongoing races. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a donation system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive.

The legislative races to watch on Tuesday

The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget will start with the governor’s proposed budget in mid-December and track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email jeff@akpoliticalreport.com.

The general election is just five days away (originally published on Thursday). This is a big election for several reasons. First, redistricting – which happens every ten years – has resulted in a new map and all but one of Alaska’s 60 legislative seats being up. Second, the adoption of ranked choice voting in 2020 has radically transformed how candidates are elected in Alaska. And finally, it’s the first time three statewide races have been on the ballot since 2014.

GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy is attempting to be the first incumbent governor re-elected since Democrat Tony Knowles in 1998, and the first Republican governor re-elected since Jay Hammond in 1978. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R – AK) – who has held the seat since 2002 – faces Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka, who is endorsed by Donald Trump and the Alaska Republican Party. And recently elected Congresswoman Mary Peltola (D – AK) is hoping to once again defeat Republican challengers Sarah Palin and Nick Begich.

All three statewide are unlikely to be decided in the first round, though some polling indicates that Mary Peltola might be able to reach the 50% plus one threshold on the first round. If a candidate does not receive 50% plus one on the first round, the second choice votes of the fourth place finisher are redistributed to the remaining three candidates. If none of the remaining three candidates cross 50% plus one, the process happens again and the winner is selected. The Division of Elections will conduct the ranked choice tabulation on Nov. 23 at 4 pm for the races that don’t have a winner on the first round.

While the three statewide races will likely not end up being decided until Nov. 23, most of the 59 legislative races will be decided well before that. The reason is 37 of the 59 seats have only one or two candidates, meaning ranked choice voting will not factor into those races. Nineteen legislative races have three candidates, but many of those races will be decided in the first round. Only three legislative races have four candidates. Here are the legislative races most likely not to be decided in the first round.

Senate District D

This is the open Kenai Peninsula seat because Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche is not seeking re-election. There are three candidates: Republican Tuckerman Babcock, Republican Jesse Bjorkman, and Independent Andy Cizek. In the August primary, Babcock got 49.33%, Bjorkman got 35.91%, and Cizek got 14.76%. Babcock and Bjorkman have both raised money and are running competitive campaigns. Cizek, on the other hand, has raised little money.

Babcock is well-known on the Peninsula. He was a former chair of the Alaska Republican Party and Gov. Dunleavy’s first chief of staff. Bjorkman, who serves on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, is also well-known. While Babcock is the more conservative of the two, Bjorkman has picked up some good Republican endorsements, most notably former Speaker Mike Chenault. Voter turnout will be higher in the general and will include more Democrat and moderate voters than in the primary. If Babcock does not win on the first round, the second choice Cizek votes could result in a Bjorkman victory.

Senate District E

This South Anchorage race is a kind of rematch from 2020. Anchorage Republican Sen. Roger Holland faces Republican Cathy Giessel, who he defeated in the 2020 Republican primary. Perennial Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy is also in the race. In the August primary, Holland finished third with 30.68%, Cacy got 33.67%, and Giessel got 35.64%. Holland and Giessel have both raised money and are running competitive campaigns, though Holland did not really start campaigning until after the primary. Cacy has raised significantly less money than Holland and Giessel.

Holland and conservatives have been on the attack challenging Giessel’s conservative credentials. But Giessel, who is an avid campaigner, has been working hard. Cacy has not run much of a campaign but will have an impact on the outcome as she is the lone Democrat in the race. Giessel is in a good position because the majority of second choice votes of both Holland and Cacy voters will go to her. As long as Giessel does not finish in third place, she is in a good place to head back to Juneau.

Senate District J

This is an open East Anchorage seat due to redistricting. There are three candidates: Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr, Democrat Forrest Dunbar, and Republican Andrew Satterfield. Democrat Drew Cason withdrew after the primary. In the August primary, Dunbar got 49.38%, Satterfield got 31,9%, Tarr got 15.35%, and Cason (who has since withdrawn) got 3.37%.

Dunbar, who serves on the Anchorage Assembly, is definitely the favorite to win the race and could win it outright on the first round. But with Cason withdrawing and a higher turnout in the general, Tarr could gain some votes. If Dunbar doesn’t win outright, look for him to win on the second round.

Senate District N

In this Mat-Su Valley race, Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson faces two Republican opponents, Stephen Wright and Scott Clayton. In the August primary, Wilson got 46.36%, Wright – who Wilson defeated in the 2020 Republican primary – got 27.45%, and Clayton got 26.19%. With no Democrat in the race, and Wilson being the more moderate of the three, he could win on the first round. But if he doesn’t, and enough Clayton and Wright voters make the other their second choice, the race could get interesting.

Senate District P

In this Interior race, Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki faces two Republican opponents, Jim Matherly and Alex Jafre, thought Matherly is his main opponent. In the August primary, Kawasaki got 48.79%, Matherly got 44.33%, and Jafre got 6.78%. Kawasaki and Matherly have both raised money and are running active campaigns. Jafre has raised less than $1,000.

Republicans really want to pick up this seat. But Kawasaki, who defeated Republican Pete Kelly (who was then Senate president) in 2018, is known to be a fierce campaigner. Redistricting made Kawasaki’s new district a bit more conservative. Matherly, who served on the Fairbanks City Council from 2010-2016 and Fairbanks mayor from 2016-2022, is well-known in Fairbanks. If Kawasaki does not win on the first round, Matherly will be in a good position to win the seat.

House District 6

Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance has two Independent opponents, Ginger Bryant and Louie Flora. In the August primary, Vance got 51.89%, Flora got 40.03%, and Bryant got 8.08%. Vance and Flora have both raised significant money while Bryant has raised less than $2,000. While Vance performed well in the primary and has the incumbent advantage, the higher and more moderate turnout in the general could result in her not getting enough votes to win on the first round. If that happens, Flora could pull off an upset if enough of Bryant’s voters choose him second.

House District 10

This is an open South Anchorage seat due to redistricting. Three people are running for the seat: Republican Craig Johnson, Democrat Caroline Storm, and Libertarian Mike Insalaco. Democrat Sue Levi withdrew after the primary. In the August primary, Johnson got 49.46%, Levi (who has since withdrawn) got 23.43%, Storm got 22.5%, and Insalaco got 4.6%. Johnson and Storm have raised money and are running competitive campaigns. Insalaco has raised much less.

Because Levi withdrew, Storm will consolidate the Democratic and progressive vote. In a heads up match, Johnson – a former representative – would be the favorite in this conservative South Anchorage district. But with a higher general turnout and Insalaco being on the ballot, Johnson may not be able to win on the first round. In that case, Insalaco’s second choice votes will determine the winner.

House District 11

This is an open seat because Anchorage Republican Rep. James Kaufman is running for the Senate seat. Three people are running for the seat: Republican Julie Coulombe, Independent Walter Featherly, and Republican Ross Bieling. In the August primary, Coulombe got 43.73%, Featherly got 38.94%, and Bieling got 17.33%. Coulombe and Featherly have raised money and are running competitive campaigns. Bieling has only raised $2,200.

Coulombe is in a good position to win the seat as the majority of Beiling’s second votes will go to her. Featherly would need to significantly improve his performance in the primary to have a shot. With Bieling in the race, this one probably won’t be decided in the first round.

House District 15

Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom McKay has two opponents, Democrat Denny Wells and Republican David Eibeck. In the August primary, McKay got 44.32%, Wells got 44.21%, and Eibeck got 11.46%. McKay and Wells have raised money and are running competitive campaigns. Eibeck has only raised $350. McKay is in a good position to get re-elected but it will likely be after Eibeck’s second choice votes are reallocated.

House District 18

Anchorage Democratic Rep. David Nelson has two Democratic opponents, Cliff Groh and Lyn Franks. In the August primary, Nelson got 40.78%, Groh got 37.98%, and Franks got 21.24%. Groh has raised an astonishing $194,000, while Nelson has raised $37,000 and Franks has raised $29,000. Groh should prevail after Frank’s second choice votes are reallocated.

House District 27

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman as two Republican opponents, Stu Graham and Brenden Carpenter. In the August primary, Eastman got 52.06%, Graham got 26.26%, and Carpenter got 21.68%. Eastman has significantly outraised his opponents. But Eastman, who is currently fighting a lawsuit that claims he is ineligible to serve because of his membership in the Oath Keepers, is also controversial. With no Democrat on the ballot, Eastman may not win on the first round. If that happens, he should prevail on the second round. But if he is found ineligible, a judge has said the second place finisher would be the winner.

House District 28

This is an open Mat-Su seat due to redistricting. This is one of the most interesting legislative races because there are four Republicans: Steve Menard, Jesse Sumner, Rachel Allen, and Jessica Wright. In the August primary, Menard got 33.91%, Sumner got 33.02%, Wright got 17,86%, and Allen got 15.2%. Sumner has raised as much as the other three combined. But Menard is a big Valley name. This race could be one of the few races that is decided in the third round.

House District 30

Big Lake Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe has two opponents, Republican Doyle Holmes and Democrat Joy Mindiola. In the August primary, McCabe got 47.38%, Holmes got 27.91%, and Mindiola got 24.7%. McCabe is definitely the favorite but this race may be decided in the second round.

House District 31

Fairbanks Republican Rep. Bart LeBon has two opponents, Democrat Maxine Dibert and Republican Kelly Nash. In the August primary, LeBon got 37.93%, Dibert got 37.24%, and Nash got 24.83%. Nash, who has not raised much money, could end up being a spoiler. She’s extremely conservative and many of her voters may end up only voting for her. Dibert has raised almost $100,000 and has a lot of momentum. LeBon has raised $42,000, less than half that of Dibert. If Dibert can significantly improve her primary performance, and enough Nash voters don’t rank LeBon second, Dibert could pull off an upset.

House District 32

This is an open seat because Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson is not seeking re-election. Three people are running for the seat: Republican Will Stapp, Republican Timothy Givens, and Democrat Van Lawrence. This is Stapp’s race to win, but it may end up being in the second round after Givens’ second choice votes are reallocated.

House District 34

Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins has two Republican opponents, Frank Tomaszewski and Nate DeMars. In the August primary, Hopkins got 44.62%, Tomaszewski got 41.3%, and DeMars got 14.07%. DeMars withdrew after the primary but failed to do so before the deadline, so his name remains on the ballot. Hopkins’ new district is much more conservative than his old district. Because DeMars is not campaigning and has endorsed Tomaszewski, he will get less of a percentage that he did in the primary. If Tomaszewski doesn’t win on the first round, the DeMars second choice votes should get him there on the second round.

Last Minute Campaign Looseness

The end of campaign season inevitably means some candidates and campaigns – either due to desperation or just not caring – start getting loose or even reckless. Here are some of the best examples.

This one is super loose. But the backstory is even better. The mailer attacking Republican Justin Ruffridge – who is challenging Representative Ron Gillham (R – Soldotna) – was sent by Jim Minnery’s group, Alaska Family Action. Ruffridge contacted Minnery about the mailer. Minnery eventually admitted it was all Tuckerman Babcock’s idea! Ruffridge later confronted Babcock about it an event. Imagine if Ruffridge and Babcock both win!

A group called Alaska Policy Partners, chaired by Mat-Su Borough Assembly member (and Republican State House candidate) Jesse Sumner sent out a mailer to Democrats and progressives intended to turn them away from Cathy Giessel. The funny thing is Sumner says he left the group in June but he’s still listed as the chair. He also donated $25,000 to them on October 6. You can see the other donors to the group here.

Alaska Policy Partners strikes again. This time in Fairbanks. In this one, they claim Scott Kawasaki “lives in his mothers [sic] basement.” There is just one small problem with this mailer: Scott does not live with his mom and his mom does not have a basement. What a stupid mailer. If Sumner wins, which he is likely to do, and Kawasaki and Giessel both win, he’s going to have a hard time working with the Senate.

Examples:

Jesse Sumner asking Scott Kawasaki for help on a bill: “Sure, Jesse, I would love to help. But I have to get back to my mom’s basement.”

Jesse Sumner asking Cathy Giessel for help on a bill: “Jesse, I would love to help you but I have to go stop some abortions.”

In this mailer, Congresswoman Mary Peltola (D – Alaska) makes sure to let voters know she is PRO-GUN.

Last minute radio ads are fun too. Check out this very funny and loose radio ad from Republican House candidate Forrest Wolfe. The ad is a “missing person alert” for his opponent, Democrat Donna Mears.

 

And in this ad, Democrat Grier Hopkins is “your NRA endorsed candidate!”

 

This Week’s Loose Unit 

There was no shortage of good candidates the week before the general election. But a decision about Election Day made this week’s designee clear. This week’s Loose Unit is the Anchorage School District. At the request of the Division of Elections, ASD agreed to close schools on Tuesday for the election. This was first done in 2020 because of COVID. Don’t get me wrong, I think Election Day should be a national holiday. But it’s not. So thousands of Anchorage parents are either going to have to take off work or figure something out for their kids on Tuesday. While this was on the calendar, the Anchorage School District did little to inform parents. Students are also supposed to do remote learning that day, which makes it harder – not easier – for parents to vote. Super loose behavior of the Anchorage School District here.

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 jeff@alaskalandmine.com.

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Maureen Suttman
6 months ago

Every single political ad that is sent me goes directly to recycling. Don’t read any, of any perspective.

Thx USPS for all the extra you have to do because of all the political mailings.

Akwhitty
6 months ago

So looking forward to hearing from Mr. Irrelevant Mark Begich, our one term Senator and former tax hiking mayor of Anchorage. This guy rebuilt his hotel on the backs of the taxpayers under the pretext of helping the homeless.

Buddy
6 months ago
Reply to  Akwhitty

That’s why I’m not voting for Nick Begich.

Paintedpony
6 months ago

Disagree Election Day being another paid holiday only for government workers. Unless every single working person gets the day off to vote then forget about it. Most people who have trouble voting don’t work a government job,

Lynn Willis
6 months ago

I agree Jeff, you have every reason to suspect Gail Fenumia, Dunleavy’s Director of Elections has placed her “thumb on the scale” to tilt the election toward the man who keeps her employed. Help Dunleavy keep that “suspect” demographic of parents with school age children away from the polls by forcing them to stay home with the kids and don’t make voting any easier for teachers and suspect liberal school employees. Of course, the school board fears losing state funds from Dunleavy. And how soon until Fenumia’s mail in ballot requiring twice the postage of single Forever Stamp causes challenges… Read more »

Tucker
6 months ago
Reply to  Lynn Willis

Quite the conspiracy theorist aren’t you? Crazy. If election day was a national holiday those schools would be closed and the parents would still be home taking care of them. Probably would bring them with them to vote just like people do now with little ones not in school. Those teachers and other school employees would also get another paid holiday and wouldn’t be in the schools either.

Last edited 6 months ago by Tucker
Lynn Willis
6 months ago
Reply to  Tucker

Well Tucker, your scenario isn’t the reality is it? This was another Dunleavy stunt which I am certain he did not think of. Also, are you going to pay that money due the US postal service or is that just another law a Trump follower thinks can be ignored?