Alaska voters went to the polls Tuesday night to remake the state Legislature, selecting candidates in almost every seat of both the House and Senate.
Many races this year are being held in response to redistricting under the 2010 U.S. Census, conducted in Tuesday’s elections under an interim plan approved by the Alaska Supreme Court. Some 59 of the Legislature’s 60 seats are in play -- all 40 House seats and every Senate seat except that of Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, following a 2009 legal dispute over replacing Sen. Kim Elton.
Several Democratic members of the state Senate's bipartisan majority are expected to see strong GOP challenges Tuesday, with Sen. Bettye Davis facing Anna Fairclough, Sen. Bill Wielechowski running against Bob Roses and Sen. Hollis French paired off versus Bob Bell.
As of 12:05 a.m. Wednesday, with about 86 percent of precincts reporting, Fairclough was leading Davis by 60 percent to 39 percent, and Wielechowski had a lead of 59 percent to 40 percent over Roses. With 100 percent of Senate District J precincts in -- but with some absentee ballots uncounted -- French was leading Bell by 6,415 votes to 6,166 votes, a margin of 249 votes or 50.84 percent to 48.87 percent.
High-profile state House races include a few between incumbents set up by redistricting, including the East Anchorage match-up of Democratic Rep. Pete Petersen against Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt, as well as a battle between Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg and the GOP’s Rep. Alan Dick. Pruitt was leading Petersen by 50 percent to 49 percent, while Guttenberg had a 52 percent lead over Dick’s 34 percent.
In a closely watched race in the Abbott area of Anchorage, Republican Rep. Charisse Millett was attempting to fend off a challenge from former state Democratic Party head Patti Higgins. Millett was leading Higgins by 55 percent to 44 percent.
The Senate, which was controlled during the last legislative session by a 16-member bipartisan majority of 10 Democrats and six Republicans, became the main point of resistance against Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to cut taxes on the oil industry. While Parnell sought to reduce taxes in a bid to stimulate possible exploration, senators wanted to target tax reductions to affect new exploration in Alaska.
With no progress made during the legislative session, Parnell incorporated the initiative into his April call for a special session. He later removed it from the agenda, however, saying senators appeared “incapable of passing comprehensive oil tax reform.”
During the summer, Parnell and the Alaska GOP have targeted members of the bipartisan majority in this year’s elections, as a business group -- the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition -- has publicly made a case for reducing Alaska’s oil taxes.
In recent weeks, a resurrected group known as Backbone has spent large sums to support the bipartisan majority, with former Alaska first ladies Ermalee Hickel and Bella Hammond announcing their backing of majority members.
Thus far, two Republican members of the bipartisan majority -- Sens. Tom Wagoner and Linda Menard -- have been knocked out by primary challengers Peter Micciche and Mike Dunleavy, who are running unopposed in the general election.
Contact Chris Klint