OPINION: Thank you for not voting
Recession, unemployment, negative migration, addiction, crime and the Permanent Fund Dividend have dominated the news and internet comments for the past three years, yet fewer than 1 in 5 Alaskans cast ballots in the Aug. 21 primary.
There are plenty of good reasons for that. The Democrat race for governor was essentially uncontested, there was no U.S. Senate race or ballot initiatives, the incumbent Gov. Bill Walker wasn’t on the ballot and as usual many House and Senate races had fewer choices than an election in North Korea.
As expected, former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy crushed latecomer and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in the GOP primary by a 2-1 margin. Treadwell, who vastly overestimated his name recognition and ability to parachute into the race at the filing deadline as a last-ditch alternative to Dunleavy for the party establishment, sang a song of sour grapes as the results came in.
"We have to bring the Republican Party together because right now the ideas that we brought forward on trying to save jobs, build jobs in this economy, having experienced people run this thing, we did not get very much attention,” Treadwell told the Anchorage Daily News. “The biggest issue was who was tallest."
Unconstrained by holding any elected office, Treadwell had more than a year to run, make his case and raise money to earn the GOP nod — there was even a gap where Dunleavy suspended his campaign for health reasons — but he apparently believed he could stroll to a win in a couple months if only he’d gotten more attention.
Note to Mead: You can’t beat something with nothing, and looking for scapegoats anywhere but the mirror is a bigger waste of time than your short-lived campaign.
But back to the turnout, which while largely explainable was baffling in a few notable contested races.
In Eagle River, the race to fill former Sen. Anna MacKinnon’s seat between two well-known politicians was a blowout win for Rep. Lora Reinbold over Rep. Dan Saddler by nearly 800 votes but fewer than 5,000 people voted in a district of nearly 29,000 registered voters.
In House District 25, House Minority Leader Charisse Millett was sacked by newcomer Josh Revak with neither accumulating even 1,000 votes. With turnout of just 11 percent, Revak had a lead of 916 to 685 in a district with more than 14,000 voters.
But wait, it gets worse.
Over in Muldoon, House Rules Chair and the Legislature’s most prolific fundraiser Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux couldn’t even turn out 300 people to vote for her.
She ended the night trailing by 3 votes, 294-291, and may yet pull out a win, but it is still a pathetic showing for the would-be kingmaker.
LeDoux and Millett, who both voted for fully funding the PFD this past session, may well go down to defeat, and even in races where candidates made it an issue the results were decidedly mixed.
Paying a “full” dividend is just not an animating issue for the majority of Alaskans, despite what Dunleavy’s win might indicate.
The issue did appear to bite a member of the Senate Majority leadership with Peter Miccicche trailing by 12 votes in his race on the Kenai Peninsula.
But like Millett, his loss, if it holds, can just as easily be blamed on complacency as a reduced PFD that is still bigger than all but seven that have been paid in state history.
Whether the internet-amplified anger over the PFD translates to a Legislature that will send a formula-funded dividend to the governor’s desk remains to be seen, but if Tuesday was any indication the issue did not drive turnout in any race.
The math of a three-way contest rather than the math of calculating the PFD still appears to be the most decisive factor heading into November.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].