The Anchorage Assembly could potentially see a significant change in membership over the coming months, with two current members appearing set to win seats in the Alaska Legislature, one member announcing she is not running for reelection and four additional seats up for election in early 2023.
That means the 12-seat Assembly’s membership could shift by more than half — including its leadership — when the city’s April 4 regular election results are finalized next spring. At least two new members will be elected to replace departing representatives in West Anchorage and in East Anchorage.
On Monday, West Anchorage Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said that she is not running for reelection in the April 4 race. Quinn-Davidson was first elected to the seat in a 2018 special election. She was later chosen by the Assembly to serve as acting mayor following the resignation of former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. She worked as mayor for more than eight months, the first woman and openly gay individual to hold the city’s top executive office, steering the city during a tumultuous period largely shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and its wide-ranging impacts.
“The decision not to run for re-election is one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make,” she said in a written statement. “I love this job – the challenges, the rewards, the scope of issues I have the privilege of working on, the people I am able to strategize and solve problems with, and the ability to make a real difference in my neighbors’ lives. There is no other role quite like being an Assembly member, and I know I will miss it greatly. But I have a new family member -- a happy, curious 5-month old son -- and I want to spend more time with him and my wife at such a special time for our family.”
Assembly member Pete Petersen is also leaving. He is nearing the end of his third term in an East Anchorage seat, and he can’t run for a fourth. According to city code, members can only serve for three consecutive terms. After that, they must wait for a term to pass before running for a fourth stint on Assembly. Assembly terms are three years.
Three incumbents who are slated to face reelection remain. So far, two of them have filed to run for another term: Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant of North Anchorage and Midtown member Felix Rivera.
Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance of South Anchorage had not filed with the state for a third term as of Monday, state records show. She did not return phone calls from the Daily News on Monday.
Because East Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar is far ahead of two opponents in the race for state Senate Seat J, East Anchorage voters will likely be electing two new Assembly members next year, though state election results are not yet final. Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system was implemented this year, and final tallies reflecting voters’ second and third choices won’t occur until Nov. 23.
Dunbar won reelection to the Assembly earlier this year. Provided Dunbar wins the state Senate race, whoever East Anchorage voters elect to replace him in April will serve the remaining two years of his term.
Likewise, member Jamie Allard of Eagle River appears to be winning handily the race for state House seat 23 against a single opponent.
Since Allard was already nearing the end of her Assembly term, her seat would have been up for election on April 4 regardless. However, it’s now very likely that she’ll leave the seat empty a few months early.
What happens after Dunbar and Allard leave those seats open early is still unclear — and it’s also not clear exactly when their seats will be officially vacant.
Newly elected state legislators are scheduled to be sworn into office in mid-January, but the two Assembly members presumably departing for state office could leave sooner, Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.
“Should members be elected to new offices, by operation of law, they leave their position on the Assembly the day they’re sworn in,” Constant said. “But any member could submit a resignation in advance of that.”
Dunbar and Allard could leave once the state’s election results are certified, he said.
Once those seats become vacant, the Assembly could choose to temporarily appoint members to represent Eagle River and East Anchorage, who would serve until the April 4 election is finalized. Or, the Assembly could choose to leave the seats vacant until April.
The Assembly will take up that question after Nov. 23, Constant said.
The Assembly could also choose to hold a special election, according to city code, but that route is highly unlikely. Anchorage’s vote-by-mail elections take several weeks for the municipal clerk’s office to prepare, run and then count, and any candidates would be left scrambling to campaign. Special elections are also costly.
Because the two seats would be empty just three to four months ahead of the next regular election, it doesn’t make sense to hold a special election with another one coming on its heels, Constant said.
“There won’t be a special — there’s no way,” he said. “The ballots would get crossed in the air.”
If an Assembly seat becomes empty six months or more before the next regular election, then the city is required to hold a special election, according to code.
If between 30 days and six months are left before the next election, the Assembly can appoint a qualified applicant by vote or call for a special election, though it doesn’t have to do either.
The current majority on the Anchorage Assembly has often been at odds with conservative Mayor Dave Bronson, who in the last election cycle supported efforts to try to unseat members not aligned with his administration. Bronson himself has filed for reelection, though the next mayoral election won’t be until 2024.