Devin Kelly

GOP poised to retake state House after knocking off Seaton, Grenn

Republicans were poised to recapture control of the Alaska House of Representatives on Tuesday night at the same time voters were on track to elect a Republican governor to office. Two incumbents, Rep. Paul Seaton and Rep. Jason Grenn, lost their seats to Republican challengers. A third seat, in Fairbanks’ House District 1, was set to flip from Democrat to Republican. Meanwhile, the president of the Alaska Senate, Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly, was holding on to a razor-thin margin against Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki in a high-profile and hard-fought race that put the direction of the Senate on the line. With all precincts reporting Election Night, Kelly was leading Kawasaki by just 11 votes. A spokesman for Kawasaki’s campaign, Will Jodwalis, said Kawasaki’s campaign wasn’t ready to concede. The votes counted Election Night do not include absentee and questioned ballots, and the number of ballots left to be tallied vary by district. The key races for seats in the state House became referendums on lawmakers’ decisions and views about the Permanent Fund dividend, crime and taxes. Republicans had also vowed to reclaim control over the chamber after losing it in 2016 for the first time in more than two decades, when three moderate Republicans — Seaton, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux — joined Democrats and independents to form a new majority coalition. Seaton, whose tenure in the House has extended nearly two decades, was soundly defeated by Republican Sarah Vance. Vance garnered 59 percent of the vote to Seaton’s 40 percent. Seaton was a longtime Republican but registered as a nonpartisan for the first time this election. He said he wanted to see a new revenue measure to balance the budget. Vance, meanwhile, campaigned on calling for cuts and no new taxes. Grenn, an independent elected in 2016, was losing to Republican Sara Rasmussen by 5 percentage points Election Night with all precincts reporting. Rasmussen, who campaigned on an anti-crime and anti-Senate Bill 91 platform, said in an interview Election Night that voters thought Grenn would lean more conservative and felt “deceived” that Grenn had caucused with Democrats. Republicans also appeared poised to flip Kawasaki’s former seat in Fairbanks, House District 1. Republican Bart LeBon, a retired banker, held a 79-vote lead over Democrat Kathryn Dodge late on Election Night. Not all of the Republicans in the majority fell: Incumbent LeDoux was on track to keep her East Anchorage seat. She beat back a Democrat and three write-in candidates, including Jake Sloan, a Republican who got an enthusiastic push from the Alaska Republican Party, which is no fan of LeDoux’s. LeDoux’s win would come despite a primary victory that was overshadowed by allegations of voter fraud. LeDoux has said she’s done nothing wrong. Stutes, the third Republican who joined the largely Democratic House majority coalition, also won handily against a Democratic challenger. But for members of the Republican minority, no seats were lost, Alaska GOP chair Tuckerman Babcock pointed out. In East Anchorage, incumbent Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt fielded a strong Democratic bid from Liz Snyder, but Pruitt was up by 214 votes early Nov. 7. In another competitive race, in South Anchorage, Republican Josh Revak beat Democrat Pat Higgins by a solid four-point margin with all precincts reporting. Revak had ousted incumbent House minority leader Charisse Millett in the August primary. The Republican victories were bolstered by heavy advertising by independent expenditure groups. One umbrella organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, financed at least four different groups. Those groups generally supported conservative Republican candidates and opposed independent candidates and moderate Republicans who caucused with Democrats, campaign finance reports show. One, Families of the Last Frontier, spent at least $271,225 statewide by Election Day, and received more than $400,000 in donations from the Republican State Leadership Committee, records show. Another, Interior Votes, received at least $183,700, which went toward supporting the Republican candidates and opposing the Democratic candidates in the Fairbanks area. Two other groups, Alaska for a Sound Economy and Alaska Accountability Project, documented expenditures that were more focused on competitive races in Anchorage, including supporting Rasmussen. On the Democratic side, a union-led independent expenditure group spent more than $100,000 on efforts to support members of the Democratic-controlled House majority coalition, records show. The group Putting Alaskans First ran ads supporting Kawasaki, LeDoux, Seaton and Higgins and opposing Pruitt, the Republican incumbent in South Anchorage. One group was specifically focused on re-electing independents: Grenn, Seaton, Chris Dimond in Juneau and Rep. Dan Ortiz in Ketchikan. That group raised about $25,000 for campaign activity, records show. Only Ortiz won his race.

Candidate swap launches Republican write-in campaign against LeDoux

A planned write-in campaign by the Alaska Republican Party against incumbent Republican state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux began Tuesday with a candidate swap. Jake Sloan, a general contractor who lives in Muldoon, said Sept. 4 he plans to run against LeDoux as a write-in candidate in the November election for her East Anchorage state house seat. Sloan is replacing Aaron Weaver, the first-time political candidate who did little campaigning but nearly beat LeDoux in a primary election shrouded in questions of voting irregularities, particularly with absentee ballots. Weaver said he’d been overwhelmed by media attention the past two weeks, ever since the state Division of Elections confirmed it was investigating the irregularities. Questions have surrounded the efforts of the LeDoux campaign to reach out to minority voters in the district. LeDoux is at odds with the state Republican Party, and party officials pledged a write-in campaign. Weaver said he had expected his first campaign would be far more straightforward, and he hasn’t expected a chance at winning. “To have this experience right out of the gate was quite shocking for me,” Weaver said. Weaver said he was happy to “pass the baton” to Sloan. Both men filed earlier this year to run against LeDoux. They said they both believed LeDoux should have a Republican challenger, and generally shared ideas about supporting repeal of the criminal justice reform law, Senate Bill 91, and restoring the Permanent Fund to its original calculation. Since his contracting job took him out of town much of the summer, Sloan said they agreed Weaver should run. After the primary election, with Weaver deciding he would prefer to drop out, state GOP chair Tuckerman Babcock contacted Sloan and asked if he would run, according to Weaver and Sloan. Sloan has lived in East Anchorage with his wife and three children for five years. He said he planned to immediately start knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters. Weaver said he wouldn’t rule out running again in 2020, but that it was too early to say.

Millett, Micciche, LeDoux face upset losses in primary

Incumbent and House Minority Leader Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, was upset by a first-time political candidate in preliminary returns in the state’s primary election, while two other incumbents, Sen. Peter Micciche and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, were fighting to keep their seats. In contested state House races, Rep. Lora Reinbold had a big lead over fellow state Rep. Dan Saddler in a heated Alaska Senate race in Chugiak-Eagle River. In the Mat-Su, incumbent Rep. George Rauscher was on track to score the Republican nomination over former state Rep. Jim Colver and another candidate, Pamela Goode, in a contentious primary for state House. With all precincts reporting late Aug. 21, Josh Revak, a military veteran and political newcomer, was beating Millett by more than a 10-point margin. Revak had 57 percent of the vote to Millett’s 43 percent. Millett has represented the district since 2008. Speaking in downtown Anchorage on election night, Revak, who had critiqued Millett’s record on the criminal justice reform law Senate Bill 91 and other issues, called his lead “surreal.” “I just hope I can live up to the standards my neighbors in Abbott Loop have set out for me as voters,” Revak said. Millett could not immediately be reached for comment. In a Republican primary for state Senate on the Kenai Peninsula, Micciche, who was elected to the Senate in 2013, was in a very tight race with Ron Gillham of Soldotna. The winner of that race will also win the seat, with no challengers in the general election. With all of the district’s precincts reporting, Gillham was leading Micciche by just 12 votes — meaning the outcome will come down to absentee ballots in the coming days. An even tighter margin was at play for LeDoux in her East Anchorage House race. With all precincts reporting, LeDoux was neck-and-neck with challenger Aaron Weaver. Weaver had 50.3 percent of the vote to LeDoux’s 49.7 percent — a difference of three votes. LeDoux has represented East Anchorage since 2015. The winner of LeDoux’s race will most likely face Democrat Lyn Franks, who had a comfortable lead in a three-way Democratic primary in the district late Tuesday night. Other incumbents scored dominant victories. In the closely watched Republican primary for House District 9, Rauscher, who was first elected in 2016, had 50 percent of the vote. Goode had about 22 percent of the vote and Colver had 28 percent. Rauscher will now face Democrat Bill Johnson in November. In what had been an acrimonious Senate race in Chugiak-Eagle River, Reinbold jumped to a huge lead over Saddler. With all precincts reporting, Reinbold had 58 percent of the vote to Saddler’s 42 percent. At a Republican election night event in downtown Anchorage, Reinbold told supporters that her stance as an early voice against Senate Bill 91 helped sway voters. “Public safety is government’s No. 1 mandate,” she said. Reinbold will face Democrat Oliver Schiess of Eagle River in the November election. Apart from the Reinbold-Saddler race, it was a busy night in Chugiak-Eagle River, with two contested races for the state House seats vacated by Reinbold and Saddler. In Saddler’s district, Kelly Merrick secured the Republican nomination. With all precincts reporting, Merrick had 43 percent of the vote, Jamie Allard had 36 percent of the vote and Eugene Harnett had 21 percent of the vote. Merrick will face nonpartisan Joe Hackenmueller in November. In the race for Reinbold’s seat, Nancy Dahlstrom had a commanding lead over opponents Craig Christenson and Bill Cook. With all precincts reporting, Dahlstrom had 41.4 percent of the vote; Christenson had 29.4 percent; and Cook had 29.2 percent. The winner will go against Democrat Danyelle Kimp in the general election. Two other three-way Anchorage primaries had lopsided margins in early returns. In downtown Anchorage, Zack Fields handily won a three-way Democratic race against Cliff Groh and Elias Rojas. With all precincts reporting, Fields had nearly 50 percent of the vote, Groh had 32 percent and Rojas had 17 percent. Fields will face Republican Ceezar Martinson in the general election. In a contested Republican primary for House District 26 in South Anchorage, Laddie Shaw also had a big edge over his two challengers. With all precincts reporting, Shaw had 45 percent of the vote, compared to Joe Riggs with 29 percent and Albert Fogle with 26 percent. Shaw will next face Democrat Hunter Dunn in the general election. Also in South Anchorage, Rep. Chris Birch, who currently has the seat sought by Riggs, Shaw and Fogle and decided to run for Senate, had a crushing lead Tuesday night over challenger Bekah Halat, a newcomer who was recently charged with felony welfare fraud. Birch had 78 percent of the vote to Halat’s 22 percent with all precincts reporting. Birch goes on to compete against Democrat Janice Park in the November election. In West Anchorage’s District 22, a political newcomer, Sara Rasmussen, soundly beat former state Rep. Liz Vazquez in the Republican primary. With all precincts reporting, Rasmussen had 54 percent of the vote and Vazquez had 46 percent of the vote. Vazquez was hoping for a rematch against incumbent state Rep. Jason Grenn, an independent who ousted her in 2016 after her first term. Instead, it will be Rasmussen facing Green in November, along with Democrat Dustin Darden. Chugiak-Eagle River Star Editor Matt Tunseth contributed reporting.
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