More than two weeks after election day, final ballot counts in some of Alaska’s closest legislative races were finished Wednesday. Among the tightest races is the competition for a West Anchorage Senate seat between sitting Democratic Sen. Hollis French and longtime engineering firm owner Bob Bell. French appears to have won that race by a mere 54 votes, out of more than 15,100 cast.
Another race with an even smaller margin of victory was for a Southeast Alaska House seat, where eight-year Republican Rep. Bill Thomas was unseated by 32 votes. Democratic challenger Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins won with 4,123 votes to Thomas’s 4,091.
Now the election results can pass to the state review board for certification. Candidates will have five days after the reviews are complete to decide whether to request a recount. Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai was hoping the races could be reviewed as early as Friday.
Recounts are possible anytime races are this close -- and they seem likely here. If the difference in votes is less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast, the cost of a recount is shouldered by the state. Otherwise, a candidate or complainant would have to pay a deposit of $2,000 for each House District recounted.
But a recount in Southeast was still up in the air. Thomas said Wednesday he hadn’t decided if he would request one. “I may call around and see what people think,” Thomas said. “I probably will request one just because I didn’t like the way the election ran.”
Thomas spoke candidly about his opponent, whom Thomas said had more time to commit to campaigning because "he doesn't work."
Kreiss-Tomkins, who is 23 years old, lists several occupations in the “About Me” section of his campaign website, including substitute teacher and “public policy wonk for several nonprofits.”
“I expected (the election) to be close because I had to work while he was campaigning,” Thomas said. “As far as the campaign is concerned, I think I could have done better. But I’m mostly disappointed for the district of Southeast; I think (the result) is going to weaken us even more."
Thomas was asked by radio station KHNS in Haines whether he’d seek a recount, and spoke even more candidly:
“I’m not going to say because I want the suspense to lay there. The guy was such an a–hole. You know, he lied on so many things and he was supposed to run a clean campaign and he didn’t.”
Thomas had previously served as co-chair of the House Finance Committee, and was among the more senior members of the House. He said he was present during the recent determinations for House leadership, but was not appointed to any positions because his race was undecided.
Still, he seemed ready to move on from the Legislature, and said that if the final results show he lost, he won’t run again. He said he may try to find work as a lobbyist or go back to fishing.
“Eight years. That’s plenty,” Thomas said. “I’m 65. I’m ready to go fishing again, ready to spend more time at home.”
Kreiss-Tomkins did not return a call Wednesday, but he told Southeast radio station KCAW that he was “approaching the next two months as a legislator-elect” and would begin to hire staff.
In the West Anchorage race, Sen. Hollis French and Bob Bell both spent big in their bids to win a seat in a district that changed significantly under a redistricting plan that went into effect for the first time in this election.
That race was hotly contested as French -- an opponent of Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed oil tax break package that could mean $2 billion in tax cuts for the big-three oil companies -- faced off against Bell, owner of an engineering firm with longtime ties to the oil industry.
The tight Senate race also would be eligible for a state-funded count. The 20-member Senate saw a big shakeup on election night, with its Bipartisan Working Group crumbling and a new majority of 13 Republicans and 2 Democrats established.
A recount wouldn't happen until after the holiday weekend. Marc Hellenthal, who worked as an advisor on the Bell campaign, said that he couldn’t speak for whether or not there would be a recount. Bell was vacationing in Hawaii.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com