It may be known as the "lower house" but that doesn't mean election drama in the Alaska House of Representatives will be any less heated than the Senate. As the deadline to register to vote in Alaska's primaries nears (July 29), candidates are making the rounds in preparation for the Aug. 28 primary elections.
Though many of the Senate's most interesting races revolve around potentially unseating members of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group -- a majority coalition made up of 10 Democrats and six Republicans -- the House is more solidly Republican, currently made up of 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
All 40 House seats are up for re-election and some lawmakers will have it easier than others, at least in the primary season: 14 Alaska House districts have only one Democratic and one Republican candidate, meaning they'll duke it out in November's general election. Seven incumbent legislators are running entirely unopposed -- including House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski -- so they'll be able to coast back into their seats come January 2013.
But that means about half of the House seats are still going to see primary battles later this summer, and some of them are bound to be ugly.
Incumbents not running
In addition to Ketchikan Rep. Kyle Johansen, who filed as an Independent after redistricting forced him into a competition for the same seat with incumbent Wrangell Republican Rep. Peggy Wilson, five current House members will not show up on August primary ballots for House seats. They include:
Seven districts lack incumbent challengers, which should make them among the most hotly contested. They include:
Democrat vs. Democrat
As in the state Senate races, there are relatively few Democrats competing against each other in the House primary season. In fact, counting the districts lacking incumbent candidates, there are only six districts with more than one Democrat vying for a House seat.
Republican vs. Republican
There are far more districts -- 14 total -- in which Republicans will square off against other Republicans. There are even five districts in which incumbent Republicans won't see Democratic contenders come the general election, but will see Republican challengers in the primaries.
Part of the reason for this might simply be numbers: There are about 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state of Alaska. But there are also numerous first-term legislators (and even one Republican representative who has only served a very brief partial term after being appointed by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in May), which may seem vulnerable to other relatively untested candidates looking to shake things up within the party.
Double incumbent races
As demonstrated by the District 33 snafu that pitted two Republican candidates against one another, redistricting can sometimes lead to doubling up of incumbent candidates, reducing the benefit of name recognition among voter constituencies.
It happened twice to House representatives under the current interim redistricting plan, meaning incumbent Democrats and Republicans would square off in two districts. It has no bearing on the primary election, but can make for an interesting campaign season as both parties try to keep those legislative.
In District 2 (which includes the Interior communities of Farmers Loop and Two Rivers), North Pole Republican incumbent Tammie Wilson will face Democrat Bob Miller. Wilson has been a representative since 2009, when she was appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell to take the seat previously occupied by John Coghill, who himself was appointed to replace Sen. Gene Therriault. Miller is a single-term legislator who won a hard-fought race against incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Kelley in 2010.
Finally, in District 38 (Southwest and portions of Interior Alaska), Republican Rep. Alan Dick is up against Democrat David Guttenberg of Fairbanks. Guttenberg wins the seniority race, having served in the House since being elected in 2002. Dick has just completed his first legislative term after being elected in 2010.
CORRECTION: This article was updated Thursday, July 26, 2012 as follows: It originally stated Bryce Edgmon was running against David Guttenberg in District 38. Edgmon is actually running in District 36. Additionally, Wes Keller was inadvertently listed as a candidate in District 9, but he is actually a candidate in District 7, as noted later in the article.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com