Politics

Races to watch in Anchorage-area primary elections

It's been relatively quiet leading up to Tuesday's primary election in Alaska, but a number of contested races for seats in the state legislature have been marked by political sparring, big money and a bit of mud-slinging.

That includes in Chugiak and Eagle River, where the decision of Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, to step down from the Senate triggered a chain reaction that's led to some of the more contested battles of the summer.

Tuesday is primary election day, which sets the stage for the November general election. Absentee and early voting has been underway since Aug. 6. About 1 percent of the state's registered voters have returned ballots so far, according to the latest data from the state Division of Elections.

A reminder to Anchorage voters: The state primary is a poll-based election, not vote-by-mail as in the city election. Find your polling place here.

Here's our roundup of some of the contested races underway in the Anchorage and Mat-Su region. Check here for a full list of races and candidates.

In Saddler-Reinbold matchup, the gloves come off

When MacKinnon decided not to run for re-election in District G, Republican state House members Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, and Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, both decided to try to step up.

It's been an acrimonious race. The duo has clashed throughout the campaign season, with attacks lobbed in campaign ads and public events.

One of the most visible signs of the candidates' acrimony came during Eagle River's annual Bear Paw Festival, where a verbal altercation erupted between Saddler and Eric Reinbold, Lora's husband. In later interviews, both men blamed the other for "trash talking," and neither contacted police.

Like many Republican candidates, Reinbold is running on a platform that attacks Senate Bill 91, Alaska's sweeping attempt at criminal justice reform in 2016. She accuses Saddler of being soft on crime because he voted for the bill initially. In one campaign ad that appeared in the ECHO magazine, Reinbold called Saddler "The Straddler."

Saddler has since reversed course. He now says he'd vote to repeal the controversial reform measure. In the ECHO, Saddler ran an ad directly beneath Reinbold's that said simply, "Dan doesn't call people names — he gets things done."

Both have promised to cut the budget, restore a full Permanent Fund dividend and repeal the crime bill.

As of a week before the election, Reinbold had outraised Saddler. She reported $55,872 in campaign income and $46,542 in expenses, while Saddler raised $47,071 and spent about $38,000. But Reinbold has been her campaign's biggest donor, pumping more than $30,000 of her own money into her campaign.

The winner faces Democrat Oliver Schiess of Eagle River.

House District 13, Eagle River: Experienced candidates vie for Republican nomination

A former state legislator, a retired Air Force colonel and a local attorney are vying for the Republican nomination in Saddler's district, which includes parts of Eagle River, Chugiak and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Craig Christenson, Nancy Dahlstrom and Bill Cook are all running on platforms that center on crime and the PFD. Christenson is a retired physician who served as deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services under Gov. Sean Parnell. He said he'd like to see SB 91 repealed and replaced with tougher laws, and the legislative session moved to Anchorage.

Nancy Dahlstrom served in the state House between 2003 and 2010. She said she wants to see the crime laws re-examined. Bill Cook is a former prosecutor and judge who has promised to work for a full SB 91 repeal. All say they want PFD funding returned to the formula that was used before the Legislature voted to cap it.

The most recent campaign finance reports show Dahlstrom was leading the spending race by a nearly 2-to-1 margin over each of her opponents, with nearly $19,000 raised and $12,400 spent as of Aug. 11. Her campaign has been bolstered by $5,000 she had left over from a previous campaign, as well as $5,000 from various Alaska unions. Christenson had raised a little over $10,000 and spent more than $9,000, while Cook reported a deficit — he'd spent $9,812 compared to $4,900 raised.

Nonpartisan Danyelle Kimp is on the ballot in November.

House District 14, Eagle River: Newcomers bid to replace Reinbold

Meanwhile, the race to replace Reinbold is shaping up as one of the most expensive for the House. First-time candidate Kelly Merrick has brought in a flood of donations for her campaign.

Merrick — wife of Alaska union leader Joey Merrick and a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska — has raised more than $50,000, with $8,000 coming from unions and another $5,000 from herself. She's campaigning on a law-and-order platform and has said she believes the state needs infrastructure improvements to grow its economy.

Merrick's opponents, Jamie Allard and Eugene Harnett, are also new to politics and have been far outspent in the race. Allard has Reinbold's endorsement for the seat and has raised more than $11,000 while spending more than $9,000. She's an Army veteran who has said she'll work to repeal SB 91, restore the PFD and roll back government regulations.

Harnett has served as a legislative aide. He is campaigning on a socially conservative platform emphasizing family values, as well as the repeal of SB 91.

The winner faces nonpartisan Joe Hackenmueller.

South Anchorage, Senator M: Criminal charges shake up two-way Republican race

When Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-South Anchorage, decided to step down from his South Anchorage seat to run for lieutenant governor, two Republicans jumped in to take his place: state Rep. Chris Birch, R-South Anchorage, and a newcomer, Rebecca "Bekah" Halat.

Birch has long been active in Anchorage politics, serving on the Anchorage Assembly before he ran for the Legislature. Halat, a 33-year-old mother of two, had branded herself as a rising voice in the Republican Party.

But last week, Halat and her husband were charged last week with felony theft over accusations of food stamp fraud. Halat has called the charges "false allegations" but will not appear in court until three days after the primary.

The charges came as Birch already had a lopsided fundraising advantage over Halat, raising more than $50,000 to her $9,800.

The winner of the Birch-Halat race will face Democrat Janice Park in the general election.

House District 9, Mat-Su: A rematch for Rauscher and Colver

The race to represent House District 9 in Mat-Su is being closely watched as one that could help tip the balance of the House.

It pits incumbent Rep. George Rauscher, from Sutton, against Jim Colver — who held the seat for a term until Rauscher unseated him two years ago. Pamela Goode, of Delta Junction, is also running in the Republican primary.

Rauscher, at the time a political newcomer, beat Colver in the primary, the only one in the state where the Alaska Republican Party supported a challenger over the incumbent.

Colver, a surveyor and former Mat-Su Assembly member from the Hatcher Pass area, lost his re-election bid amid criticism from the Republican Party that he wasn't Republican enough.

In early 2015, Colver joined five other members of the Republican-led majority who wrote a letter to House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, refusing to join his plan to use a Permanent Fund savings account to help cover the state's deficit.

The party is backing Rauscher again this election cycle.

Colver is championing himself as the tough-on-crime candidate and criticizing Rauscher for votes related to SB 91, Alaska's sweeping criminal justice reform. Rauscher voted against an effort to roll back elements of SB 91. He said that bill, SB-54, cost too much and didn't do enough to fix SB 91's problems.

Rauscher has raised about $28,000, while Colver had raised $25,000, including about $18,500 from various labor unions.

House District 25, Tudor area: Millett defends seat against well-funded challenger in contentious primary

Rep. Charisse Millett, a Republican, won a close race in 2016 against Democrat Pat Higgins.

In this year's general election, Millett will again face Higgins — if she can survive a well-funded primary challenge against a Republican newcomer.

Josh Revak, 37, is an Army combat veteran and former aide to Sen. Dan Sullivan on military affairs. His platform includes a state spending cap and more oil development.

Revak is backed by a super PAC, "Let's Back Revak," spearheaded by political blogger Jeff Landfield. The PAC had raised more than $32,000, and its spending includes Facebook videos, radio ads and yard signs, according to campaign finance reports. Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money but can't coordinate directly with the candidate.

Revak and his supporters have critiqued Millett's record on SB 91 and other issues. Earlier this month, the Millett campaign went on the defensive, sending out a mailer where Millett's three adult children accused the Revak campaign of "spreading falsehoods." The mailer said Millett had voted against cuts to the PFD and also voted against SB 91. Millett sponsored the original House version of SB 91, but ultimately voted against it on the floor and later became a vocal advocate for repeal.

House District 26, South Anchorage: A three-way Republican race is up for grabs

Three Republicans are locked in a close primary race to succeed Rep. Chris Birch in a South Anchorage House district. Birch is stepping down from his House seat to run for Senate.

Albert Fogle, 38, is an employee benefits consultant and former Army soldier; Joe Riggs, 46, is a health care consultant and a member of the city's Budget Advisory Commission; and Laddie Shaw, 69, is a former Navy SEAL who once served as state director of veterans affairs in Anchorage.

All three are running anti-crime and anti-SB 91 platforms that also focus on the economy and small government.

At $33,316, Riggs is leading the fundraising race, including $10,000 of his own money. Fogle and Shaw were virtually tied at the last fundraising report, at about $26,000. Fogle had also invested about $10,000 in his campaign, records show. Shaw's donations include some money from political action committees affiliated with unions.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Hunter Dunn in the general election.

House District 20, downtown Anchorage: Trio of Democrats battle for open seat

In downtown Anchorage, three Democrats are duking it out to replace retiring state legislator Les Gara, who represented the district for 15 years. The downtown district includes Government Hill, South Addition and Fairview and has a long track record of electing Democrats.

So far, the candidates have been trying to one-up one another on progressive credentials on issues like labor, welfare, education spending and equality. Each favors a graduated income tax as part of a state fiscal plan.

Cliff Groh, 64, is an attorney and writer who is a longtime board member of Alaska Common Ground; Zack Fields, 37, is a union organizer with Laborers' Local 341 who previously worked in the Department of Labor and as the communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party.

Elias Rojas, 45, runs a small advertising agency and has led the nonprofit Alaskans Together for Equality, which advocates for LGBTQ rights.

Groh topped overall fundraising at about $76,000, including about $50,000 of his own money, the most recent campaign finance reports show. Fields, who has been endorsed by Gara, raised about $41,600 but collected the most individual donations of any candidate.

Whoever wins will face off against Republican Ceezar Martinson and Libertarian Warren West in the general election.

House District 22, West Anchorage: Vazquez vies against newcomer to reclaim seat

Former state house representative Liz Vazquez, who lost her bid for re-election to Rep. Jason Grenn in 2016, is trying to reclaim her old seat in West Anchorage.

Vazquez, a former prosecutor, is running on a platform centered on repealing SB 91. She is competing against political newcomer Sara Rasmussen, a 28-year-old residential appraiser who is also running on an anti-SB 91 platform. Vazquez has raised about $19,000, while Rasmussen has raised about $13,000.

The winner will face Grenn, an independent, in the general election, as well as Democrat Dustin Darden. In his first term, Grenn spearheaded an overhaul of legislative ethics laws. On his campaign website, Grenn, who was not a legislator when SB 91 passed, called it a "well-intended but flawed bill" that has parts worth keeping.

Grenn has raised more than $50,000 toward his re-election bid.

House District 31, Homer: Republicans square off to challenge Seaton

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, who has represented the Kenai Peninsula since 2003, drew Republican ire for forming a majority with House Democrats last year.

This primary, Seaton is running as a nonpartisan.

Three Republican candidates, meanwhile, are jockeying for a spot to challenge him in the general election.

Those candidates are Sarah Vance, the spokeswoman behind a high-profile city recall effort in Homer last year; John Cox, an Anchor Point business owner; and commercial fisherman and political activist Hank Kroll. The most recent reports show Vance in the fundraising lead, raising about $8,300 to Cox's $5,350. Kroll had not reported raising any money