EDITORIAL: What Anchorage’s election results can tell us about what voters want — and where we’re headed

Voters in Alaska’s biggest city spoke in the Anchorage municipal election Tuesday, and their message was a resounding repudiation of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. By significant margins, residents opted to keep the balance of power on the Assembly and School Board tilted toward a center-left supermajority, ensuring strong scrutiny of the Bronson agenda for the remainder of the mayor’s term. In addition to the several re-elected incumbents, nearly all of the ballot propositions were in voters’ good graces, with all but one passing easily. Here’s what the election results mean for the municipality’s road ahead.

The Assembly

It was a good showing for incumbents and new candidates aligned with the current Assembly supermajority, a coalition of left-of-center members and a few centrists. Christopher Constant and Felix Rivera cruised to re-election, while presumptive Assembly members-elect Anna Brawley, George Martinez, Karen Bronga and Zac Johnson fended off relatively well-funded challengers. For candidates and voters aligned with Mayor Dave Bronson, however, the Assembly races were a near-unmitigated disaster, with Scott Myers in Eagle River the only bright spot — and, as Myers will be filling Jamie Allard’s former seat, his win only maintains the status quo.

Although it’s possible the new Assembly members will take their seats with less built-up resentment toward Bronson and his administration (voters told them they were tired of mayor-Assembly drama, after all), it’s almost certain tensions between the executive and legislative branches of the municipality won’t ease unless Bronson becomes far more communicative and open to compromise with the group. In the power struggle over Anchorage’s direction, the Assembly has shown it holds most of the cards, is able to override mayoral vetoes at will and can place tight limits on Bronson’s spending power. Although Bronson has so far chosen an adversarial tack in his dealings with the Assembly, he would be well-advised to reconsider if he wants to salvage the planks of his agenda — the new batch of Assembly members offers as close to a reset as the mayor is likely to get in the remainder of his term.

The school board

Anchorage’s school board races were much the same story as the Assembly, as both incumbents, Dave Donley and Andy Holleman, retained their seats and maintained the current seat split in the group. Like the Assembly, that split tilts left, meaning the board will keep moving forward on items that were priorities before, such as an emphasis on early education and attempts to restore state funding that would allow for smaller class sizes and stave off cuts. It also means the board isn’t likely to embrace divisive topics, such as Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “parental rights” bill or book ban debates, that would plunge schools further into political culture wars.

The ballot propositions


All but one of the 15 propositions that appeared on municipal ballots passed, signaling voter willingness to bear a slightly increased property tax burden in exchange for more services, from parks upgrades to school maintenance, new firefighting equipment and other items. The passage of the school bond is perhaps most notable because of the failure of a much larger bond last year — that failure may have taught the district the lesson to keep its requests more modest during times of economic uncertainty.

The biggest winner among the area-wide propositions was an increase in the residential property tax exemption, which will tilt the balance of property taxes slightly more toward commercial property. It’s not exactly a surprise that, when handed an opportunity to lower their personal tax burden and have the consequences fall elsewhere, a strong majority of homeowners will jump at the chance.

The only likely failure among the ballot propositions was Prop. 13, which sought to clarify the process whereby interim mayors are selected and how long they can serve. The measure arose because of outcry over the several-month appointment of an interim mayor after the resignation of former mayor Ethan Berkowitz, and a desire to have the language related to future interim mayors more concrete. Unfortunately for the proposition’s supporters, its language on the ballot was somewhat circuitous and difficult to parse, so many voters likely opted against the measure out of suspicion or simply confused about how the new system would work.

Overall, Anchorage voters this year signaled that despite unhappiness with the acrimony of local government, they don’t see the problem as the ideological makeup of the Assembly and school board. The divide between the Assembly and mayor will persist. If you’re an optimist, the good news is that each branch will likely keep the other from indulging in too many of its worst impulses. If you’re a pessimist, the bad news is that the smart money isn’t on major breakthroughs in cooperation between the two branches — which means the frustrating stalemate on many of the important issues Anchorage faces will likely persist.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit feedback, a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.