Recount affirms state Senate victory for French
A critic of Gov. Sean Parnell's plan for reducing oil company taxes has retained his seat in the state Senate.
A Senate District J election recount affirmed a victory for Anchorage Democrat Hollis French over Republican Bob Bell.
Division Director Gail Fenumiai certified election results last week with French leading by 51 votes. She said by email that the recount Thursday gave French a 59-vote lead
The former assistant district attorney was first elected to the Senate in 2002. His 7,605 to 7,546 vote victory this year was his closest.
Bell said he asked for the recount for certainty. "We just wanted to be sure, and we are now," he said.
French's new election district formulated by a Republican-dominated Redistricting Board removed about two-thirds of his former constituents. French retained voters in west Anchorage but was cut out of Spenard and was instead was lumped into Sand Lake precincts.
"This was a district designed, frankly, to put me out of office, and they came close," French said by phone from Hawaii, where he is on vacation.
He described the redistricting as "packing and cracking": lumping as many Democrats as possible into a few districts and spreading the rest among districts dominated by Republicans. His unscientific analysis, he said, puts 60 percent of Anchorage Democrats into Senate districts won by Johnny Ellis and Berta Gardner.
District J now stretches south from the Turnagain neighborhood, which makes up House District 19, to the area from Raspberry Road to Dimond Boulevard in House District 20.
Bell outpolled French by 776 votes lead in District 20 but was beaten by 827 votes in District 19 in results certified last week.
"I was very strong in the neighborhoods that I had represented for 10 years," French said. "That kind of makes sense. To me it's gratifying to have gotten very, very strong support out of the neighborhoods that knew me the best."
Bell said he didn't realize going into the general election that he'd have two opponents, French and labor unions supporting the Democrat.
He claims the AFL-CIO and the Alaska Public Employees Association spent more supporting French in the race than what Bell spent on his campaign.
"That's a tough bar, and we came within 59 votes," he said. "I'm proud of that. We ran a positive campaign, they didn't, and I'm proud of that."
Voters mostly wanted to talk about energy and education, French said, from their children's schools to the desire for choices.
"The one idea I kept pushing was statewide voluntary — not mandatory but voluntary — pre-kindergarten," he said.
Some voters, he said, scolded him for his opposition to the Parnell plan, which would cut oil company taxes to stimulate new development. French and other critics want evidence that companies will respond with more than promises.
"I listened very carefully, and yet probably 80 percent of the people I spoke would agree with what became our position, which was let's make sure we tie any tax reduction to more investment, more jobs, more wells, more oil in Alaska," he said.
The 13 Republicans elected to the 20-member Senate mean French will no longer be part of the majority. He expects to remain relevant.
"You don't quite have your hands on the lever of power but you have a seat at the table and a voice in the body and on oil taxes especially, there's not a Republican line and a Democratic line. It's far more fluid than that," he said. "I think people are susceptible to facts and argument and I expect to participate very actively in that debate."