Every two years all 40 House seats are up for election. This year, redistricting – which occurs every ten years – makes these races more interesting than usual. Between incumbent representatives being paired, new district lines, open seats, and the sheer number of incumbents who would rather eat dirt then return to Juneau, the State House is going to look very different next year.
For the last six years the House has been controlled by a coalition made up of a majority of Democrats with some Republicans and independents. Republicans held razor thin majorities in the House after the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections but were unable to organize majorities each time for two main reasons. One, Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) could not be counted on by his fellow Republicans to be a reliable vote. Two, some Republicans were willing to join a coalition.
After the 2018 and 2020 elections, the House did not organize majorities until a month into session. Normally, a majority is formed days or weeks after the November election. But in 2018 and 2020 it did not happen until the February after the election. Republicans want nothing more than to take back power after six years of coalition control. Control of the House will come down to three Anchorage races.
It takes 21 members in the House to organize a majority. Based on an analysis of the 40 House races, the Landmine predicts 16 seats will be held by coalition members, 19 seats will be held by Republican members who would not join a coalition, two seats will be held by members that could go either way, and three will determine who takes power.
The two that could go either way are Representatives Bart LeBon (R – Fairbanks) and Josiah Patkotak (I – Utqiagvik). LeBon, who won by a single vote in 2018, was part of a majority coalition from 2019-2021. But after the 2020 election he opted to be in the Republican minority. LeBon, a retired banker, is reasonable and does not fit in well with some of the more extreme Republicans. Patkotak, who was first elected in 2020, is in the current coalition but often flirts with Republicans. Based on how the other elections shake out, he could be part of a coalition or part of a Republican majority.
The three key Anchorage races are all heads-up, meaning ranked choice voting won’t be a factor. Here they are:
- The East Anchorage race between Democrat Donna Mears and Republican Forrest Wolfe. This is an open seat because Representative Liz Snyder (D – Anchorage) is not seeking re-election. Mears would join a coalition, where Wolfe likely would not. Wolfe recently worked as a staffer to Representative Tom McKay (R – Anchorage), who is a member of the current Republican minority. Their primary race between the two was nearly a dead heat: Mears got 2,354 votes while Wolfe got 2,302. This race is a toss-up.
- The East Anchorage race between Democrat Ted Eischeid and Republican Stanley Wright. This is an open seat due to redistricting. Eischeid would join a coalition, while Wright likely would not. Wright works for the Bronson administration and prior to that worked for Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska). The results of the primary were interesting: Eischeid got 984 votes, or 43.08%, while Wright got 804 votes, or 35.2%. Republican Lisa Simpson, who withdrew, got 496 votes, or 21.72%. If Wright can win over all of Simpson’s voters, he’ll have a good chance of winning the seat. But the turnout in this race was low: just 17%, compared to 32% statewide. The turnout in November will be higher, so this one is hard to predict.
- The Taku/Campbell race between incumbent Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage) and Republican Kathy Henslee. Josephson is a member of the current majority coalition. Henslee would not join a coalition. She is part of the conservative group that frequents Anchorage Assembly meetings. Henslee beat Josephson in the primary by one vote, 1,782 to 1,781. Alaska Independence Party candidate Timothy Huit, who withdrew, got 244 votes, or 6.41%. Most of this district is new to Josephson. Henslee unsuccessfully ran against Anchorage Representative Chris Tuck (D – Anchorage) in 2020 and Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel in April. So voters in the district are familiar with her. But Tuck, who was paired with Josephson but is not running, retained most of his old district and has endorsed Josephson. While Josephson probably has a slight advantage, this race is also a toss-up – especially since Huit voters may be more inclined to transfer to Henslee.
If Wolfe, Wright, and Henslee win, the Republicans should be able to organize a thin majority. If only two win, it gets harder. And if only one wins, it will be very difficult. If they all lose, you can forget about a Republican majority. Two of the Republicans in the 19 seats the Landmine identified that would not join a coalition include Representative David Eastman and Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard, who will easily win the open Eagle River House seat. Eastman has been a thorn in the side of Republicans since he was elected. Allard has been consistently rude to and combative with her fellow Assembly members, and even sometimes Mayor Dave Bronson, an ally of hers. She, like Eastman, will make it more challenging for Republicans to govern effectively.
If Mears, Eischeid and Josephson all win, a coalition will almost certainly form. Those three, plus the 16 seats the Landmine identified as likely coalition members makes 19. In this scenario it’s reasonable to assume LeBon and Patkotak would join a coalition as it’s unlikely they would want to be in a 21-member Republican majority with David Eastman and Jamie Allard. And once they get to 21, they may pick up one or two more Republicans
If the results of the three key races are mixed, it could produce the kind of gridlock that happened after the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Whether Republicans can find a way to take back power or if the coalition is preserved, the House is going to be messy next year. Whatever majority forms will be lucky to have more than 23 members. That means the minority, whomever it is, will be able to leverage the important two-thirds (27) and three-fourths (30) vote thresholds. And if Republicans do form a majority, the minority will include members like Representative Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham), a former speaker who remains a savvy tactical operator, along with other members with leadership experience.
The months after the November election leading up to the start of session are sure to chaotic. But it’s going to be the start of session where things really start to get loose.