The election returns are a great teacher. Here's what they taught me.
The Democrats will never win another statewide election in my lifetime. They had an outstanding candidate in Sen. Mark Begich who was well financed and well organized. He could not beat a colorless opponent who said little more than "Obama, Obama, Obama" like a scary Halloween windup toy.
Money will be a challenge to future Democrats with their eyes on Washington D.C., but their biggest problem will be turnout. The votes counted have produced an Election Day turnout of almost 45 percent. This means the average turnout in the 40 House districts also is 45 percent. Seventeen House districts had above-average turnout -- higher than 45 percent. The Republicans captured 12 of those 17 districts, the Demos four. One remains undecided. The Democrats cannot win statewide elections in which the Republicans have an overwhelming advantage in districts where people get out to vote. Begich's attempt to capture voters in rural villages seems to have in some measure worked. House District 39, Nome and vicinity, had a turnout of almost 49 percent. Shaktoolik and Savoonga had 60 percent and 64 percent.
It is worth noting that in the last three Senate elections the loser had been saddled with a charge he could not escape that ruined him. Ted Stevens -- his involvement in the Veco corruption scandal. Joe Miller -- his radicalism. Mark Begich -- his relationship with Obama.
Gov. Sean Parnell could still be re-elected. If he loses, he can look to the Alaska National Guard scandal that moved some Republicans to vote against him and the vapid campaign he ran. If Parnell loses, he also will have time to contemplate this -- six months ago he looked unbeatable. And this -- at least 10,000 people who voted for Don Young would not vote for him.
Don Young got more votes THAN ANYONE ELSE ON THE BALLOT. I know, people who use caps are NUTS and should be CHAINED out of public view, but here's a guy who has demeaned the dead, insulted students, their teachers and their parents, suffered rebukes from his colleagues, made an ass of himself on the House floor in front of TV cameras, and at age 81, still won. We're sending a man to Congress we can't safely send to a high school. Alaskans should not be fooled: The explosive incidents, the oafish behavior are going to continue. This is the real Don Young, and Alaska, you just re-elected him.
After I suggested that Don Young needs a mental status exam, a number of people wrote to me saying something like this. "Yes, I know you are right, but I have to vote for Don Young because I am so afraid of Obama." So afraid? What do you think? Obama is going to climb out from under the bed in the dark of night to strangle you, and Don Young will magically appear to shout "Go no further, fiend!"
I am proposing the Democrats sponsor Don Young Cessation Classes. Participants will gather in a hotel ballroom under the guidance of an experienced motivational speaker. The speaker will illustrate her talk with video and print examples of Don Young making a spectacle of himself -- there are so many to choose from. Then group therapy will begin as one by one the participants tell their stories, starting, let's say, with an Anchorage man named Al (short for Alaska): "I got hooked on Don at 18, the first time I voted. My parents were addicts who set a poor example. I have tried to quit so many times ... but always relapse" (weeps silently).
As for Forrest Dunbar, if there was ever the proverbial nice young man come to court the voters, he's it. A generic Democrat who did not campaign probably would have received 30 percent of the vote. Dunbar got 40. This means Forrest spent a year out of his life getting one in 10 Alaska voters to support him over Don Young.
Every major-party candidate for statewide office except Dunbar opposed the legalization of marijuana, but it passed by 5 points. Probably because so many people have smoked/still smoke Mary Jane, a significant number of voters who don't smoke marijuana are sick of the government harassing and jailing people, and another group of voters simply hate authority. As for the other ballot propositions -- increasing the minimum wage and creating further impediments to the proposed Pebble mine, apparently Alaskans will vote for Democratic-sponsored ideas, they just won't vote for Democrats.
Peter De Vries of the New Yorker magazine said, "Reality is that which won't go away no matter how much we want it to go away." Reality is Alaska is a pot-smoking red state where Don Young remains No. 1 on our scorecard if not No. 1 in our hearts.
Michael Carey is an Alaska Dispatch columnist.