ANCHORAGE — The Alaska State Senate has already been shaken up by a Republican primary that knocked off two incumbents, and by redistricting, guaranteed to take out two more.
But there's still a big political question to be resolved in Tuesday's election: Will voters return a Senate that will coalesce around a bipartisan working group as it has for most of the last decade? Or will Republicans in the next Senate so outnumber Democrats that they will be able to control the upper chamber as they have the House?
The last bipartisan coalition blocked the bid by Gov. Sean Parnell and the House to lower oil taxes without a guarantee that producers would use the savings to pump more oil. Republicans said they wanted to make Alaska more competitive for oil industry investments but Democrats cast the measure as a giveaway.
Millions of dollars have been spent on advertising and mailings trying to convince Alaskans which way to vote in the Senate districts. The tax issue has so dominated the elections that it's all but overshadowed House races and the social issues that normally tend to drive voters to the polls, like abortion and school choice. Those other issues have been bubbling but the big money has been spent on the oil tax issue -- by businesses that support the governor's effort and labor unions that don't.
Normally, all 40 House seats and half the seats in the 20-member Senate go before voters every two years. But with all but one Senate district significantly changed by redistricting, 19 Senate seats are before voters. Only Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan from Juneau gets a bye until 2014; the biggest change to his district was the letter, from District B to District P.
But there are other contests. More than two dozen judges will be up for retention votes. In most years, a small but consistent minority of voters will automatically vote no and all the judges will be retained. This year, Alaska Family Action has targeted Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen K. Tan over two decisions he made involving state abortion policy. Tan has been strongly backed for retention by the Alaska Judicial Council, which said he received high marks in performance evaluations.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, a Republican, is standing for election again, as he has since 1973. This time he faces state Rep. Sharon Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat who is giving up her seat in the Legislature.
There are also two ballot measures: one would allow the state to issue $453 million in transportation bonds; the other calls for a constitutional convention.
Polls open today at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.