Two Anchorage school board candidates drop out, supporting others in the run for the April 5 election

Two candidates for Anchorage School District’s school board have dropped out of the race ahead of the April 5 election, in an effort to consolidate votes behind other like-minded candidates — and as two self-described conservative challengers attempt to unseat two incumbent board members.

Candidates Mark Anthony Cox and Rachel Ries, both supported by local conservative groups, are running against school board president Margo Bellamy and incumbent Kelly Lessens.

Last week a third conservative candidate, Cliff Murray, announced his withdrawal from the race for school board Seat A in a video posted to his campaign page last week and urged Anchorage voters to support candidate Mark Anthony Cox instead. Cox, who also appeared in the video, said Murray’s withdrawal would help to avoid “splitting the vote” of conservatives.

“What we don’t want to have happen is for some people to vote for me and some people to vote for Mark and have neither of us end up being victorious in the end,” Murray said.

Similarly, Benjamin Baldwin, a candidate for Seat B, threw his support behind Lessens’ campaign and withdrew from the race earlier this month. At the time, he said in an interview that Lessens shares similar values and that he did not want to take support away from her campaign because she is more likely to win.

“I believe that she stands the best chance of moving our shared ideals forward in this election. I’m excited to see Kelly continue to serve in Seat B of the Anchorage School Board,” Baldwin said in a statement posted to Lessens’ Facebook page.

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Although Murray and Baldwin have announced withdrawals, voters will still see the candidates on their ballots because they did not withdraw before the Feb. 1 deadline.

Candidate Dan Loring is also running against Bellamy and Cox, while perennial candidate Dustin Darden is also running for Seat B against Ries and Lessens.

Anchorage school board seats are technically nonpartisan, meaning that candidates do not run as part of a political party. Still, local political organizations are also throwing their weight behind candidates.

The Anchorage Democrats has endorsed both incumbents, along with a host of labor unions, including the Anchorage Education Association and the Alaska AFL-CIO.

Likewise, Cox and Ries have Republican support from groups such as the Anchorage Young Republicans and the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club. They’ve also been endorsed by Alaska Family Action, a conservative political action group.

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Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has donated to the campaigns of both Ries and Cox.

The conservative-supported school board candidates have banded together to campaign, hosting some shared events, including alongside the slate of Assembly candidates running to unseat four of the Assembly incumbents.

Ries and Cox recently opened a shared campaign headquarters with Assembly candidates Kathy Henslee, Randy Sulte, Stephanie Taylor and Liz Vazquez.

Bronson is supporting those conservative incumbent challengers as he seeks to wrest more control over the city government from the liberal-leaning Assembly majority, which he has clashed with over several hot-button issues since taking office.

Bellamy and Lessens have also supported one another’s campaigns, holding a joint fundraiser earlier this month.

The school board incumbents have so far outraised their challengers by tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, according to the most recent reports filed with the state.

As of March 4, Bellamy had nearly $68,900, while Cox had $12,550. Lessens had more than $89,300 as of March 4, while Ries has raised almost $49,400 as of March 26. Dan Loring had reported no campaign income.

The Putting Alaskans First Committee is spending thousands to keep the incumbents in office. The committee is an independent expenditure group chaired by Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. (An independent expenditure is used by groups or individuals who are separate from campaigns in order to support a campaign without making a direct donation.)

It has spent $6,000 apiece on radio ads for Bellamy and Lessens. Alaska March On has also spent more than $2,500 to support their campaigns.

No such direct expenditures have been reported with the state so far in support of Cox or Ries. However, Alaska Family Action has spent nearly $1,500 for endorsement fliers and website modifications in support of its Cox, Ries and the slate of conservative Assembly candidates.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at