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Halcro: GOP will likely take over Alaska Legislature this fall

Aaron Jansen illustration

OPINION: With the filing deadline for Alaska's federal and state legislative races closed last week, the menu of candidates for 2012 features both new and old political names.

So exactly who are these people and what do they want?  

In the aftermath of Alaska's redistricting, the changing landscape of political boundaries in the state has caused a mass rush to the campaign trail. This year 59 out of the 60 legislative seats will be up for grabs, and with the new alignment of districts many incumbents will find themselves in tough races.

While the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives will stay firmly in Republican hands, the big prize is control of the state Senate, where a 10-10 split has fostered a bipartisan coalition since 2007.

Given the new districts and old names that are running, come this November the GOP has a good shot at regaining a comfortable margin once again in the Senate. There are several vulnerable Senate incumbents that could tip the scales in favor of GOP control.

Here are my predictions:

In District A, two sitting state senators will fight it out in the general election, as John Coghill-R and Joe Thomas-D will be competing for a seat in a very conservative district. Advantage GOP.

In District B, incumbent Joe Paskvan-D will take on former state Sen. Pete Kelly-R, who returns to politics after a 12-year absence. Again, this district has shifted, giving the edge to Kelly. However, Paskvan is well-liked and is a strong campaigner. Advantage GOP.

In District C, the seat is open, as redistricting has created a newly minted opportunity for the GOP. Four Republicans have entered the race, including former state Sen. Ralph Seekins-R, who was beaten badly by his Democratic challenger in 2006 after serving just one term. David Eastman-R is another candidate. On the other side of the ballot, Democrats have put forth an unknown. Advantage GOP.

In District D, the race is shaping up to be one of the best, if not the best, primary races in the state. Mat-Su incumbent Linda Menard-R is facing a strong primary challenge from Mike Dunleavy-R. The race will center on Menard's record and her participation with Democrats in the senate coalition. Menard was elected in 2008 with the help of then-Gov. Sarah Palin, and after the incumbent Lyda Green elected to step down. GOP holds the seat.

In District E, incumbent Charlie Huggins-R will retain his seat against an unknown Democratic challenger. GOP holds the seat.

In District F, incumbent Fred Dyson-R will retain his seat in a heavily conservative district. GOP holds the seat.

In District G, incumbent Bill Wielechowski-D is facing a tough challenge from former State Representative Bob Roses-R. The new district lines have shifted a little to the right, however Wielechowski is a strong campaigner and not one to be taken lightly. The race is a toss up.

In District H the seat is newly created due to boundary changes. Current State Representative Berta Gardner-D will be running against one of two Republicans, Don Smith-R who currently sits on the school board, or newcomer Clint Hess-R. The race is a toss up.

In District I, look for incumbent Johnny Ellis-D to win easily. Democrats hold seat. 

The new District J favors a Republican candidate, but the incumbent Hollis French-D will be no pushover. The challengers on the GOP side include Liz Vazquez as well as former Anchorage Assembly member and candidate for mayor Bob Bell. Advantage GOP.

In District K, incumbent Lesil McGuire-R will face two primary challengers: Jeff Landfield and Rex Snyder. The Democrat in the race is unknown. GOP holds the seat.

In District L, incumbent Kevin Meyer-R will cruise to victory over an unknown Democrat challenger. GOP holds seat.

In District M, the race is shaping up to be another interesting battle. In a rare contested Democratic primary, incumbent Bettye Davis-D will face off against former state Rep. and U.S. House candidate Harry Crawford-D. In the end, it won't matter who emerges from the primary because current state Rep. Anna Fairclough-R will prevail in the new district, which includes a heavily conservative slice of Eagle River. Advantage GOP.

In District N, look for incumbent Cathy Giessel-R to hold her seat against a sole Republican primary challenger and no general election opponent. GOP holds seat.   

In District O, incumbent Tom Wagoner-R faces a primary challenger and no general election opponent. GOP holds seat.

In District Q, two incumbents face off. Bert Stedman-R will battle long-time legislator Albert Kookesh-D. The boundaries include both urban and rural communities, but the advantage goes to Stedman because his base is in the more heavily populated urban areas, including the Southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan. Advantage GOP.

In District R, incumbent Gary Stevens-R will cruise to victory over an unknown Democrat. GOP holds seat.

In District S, incumbent Lyman Hoffman-D is unchallenged. Democrats hold seat.

In District T, incumbent Donny Olson-D will prevail over a newcomer, Allen Minish-R. Democrats hold seat.  

My overall prediction for the Senate elections: GOP will hold a 14-6 advantage.

In the Alaska House of Representatives, I predict that the GOP will pick up at least five seats, giving them a 28-12 advantage, and that doesn't include the three Democrats who caucused with the GOP last year.

In all, the GOP could possibly hold a 42-18 advantage over Democrats in the Alaska Legislature after the 2012 election in November.

This, of course, is predicated on a simple analysis of the candidates viability and district demographics. If these predictions hold, the GOP would have a super majority in both the House and Senate that would severely restrain Democrats' attempts to fight any proposed legislation. It would also give the GOP the necessary votes to override any vetoes made by the governor.

Back to the future

This year should be called the resurrection election. Many names out of the past have reemerged to lay claim to the newly drawn legislative seats in their area.

Former state lawmakers Carl Morgan-R, Woody Salmon-D, Pete Kelly-R, Ralph Seekins-R, Harry Crawford-D, Kelly Wolf-R, and Gabrielle LeDoux-R will all stand for election once again.

In addition, there are two Anchorage Assembly members and an Anchorage School Board member seeking to move up to the Legislature. Assembly members Dick Traini-R and Harriet Drummond-D, along with ASD board member Don Smith-R, will try to make the leap into state politics.  

Looking at the individual races across the state, this could be a very difficult election year for Alaska Democrats. Historically, voter turnout spikes in presidential years, and that will ensure that Republican candidates do exceptionally well.

With such hot issues as oil and gas taxes returning to the front-burner next year, Gov. Sean Parnell-R would find the Legislature more amenable to entertaining his proposal for reform. A Republican sweep would also create a contentious environment, as the GOP will finally have the votes to push more ideological-based legislation concerning women and education.

All in all, it will be a long year for Democrats in Alaska.

In addition, it will also be a long year for moderate Republicans as they watch with dismay as candidates race to the right in an attempt to prove their far-right credentials.

As the jingle goes, "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life."

CORRECTION: This article was updated June 10, 2012. A previous version mistakenly identified District C Republican candidate David Eastman.

Andrew Halcro is the publisher of AndrewHalcro.com, a blog devoted to Alaska issues and politics, where this commentary first appeared. He is president of Halcro Strategies and Avis/Alaska Rent-A-Car, his family business. Halcro served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, and he ran for governor in 2006 as an Independent.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.