With Legislative power at stake, Kawasaki and Democrats pull ahead in latest vote count

In the latest count of outstanding ballots, Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks has rebounded to more than a 152-vote lead in his bid to unseat Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly, a Republican.

New results posted Tuesday by the Alaska Division of Elections also show a Democrat, Kathryn Dodge, holding a slight lead in the race for Kawasaki’s old House seat, District 1. Dodge was leading Republican Bart LeBon by 10 votes, according to the state Division of Elections.

Nearly 350 absentee ballots still need to be counted. That will happen Friday, meaning the results could still change, particularly in House District 1.

Among Republicans, there was optimism LeBon would ultimately pull ahead; Kawasaki’s campaign, meanwhile, said it was feeling positive about its chances.

“There are still votes to be counted but at this point we are pretty confident that things may go our way,” said the spokesman, Will Jodwalis.

On Monday, Kawasaki emailed supporters asking for more donations to cover legal counsel and extended staff time during the ballot count.

Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. Neither he nor his Republican colleagues in the Senate have spoken publicly on the future of the Senate’s leadership.


The House race between LeBon and Dodge, meanwhile, is the deciding factor in whether Republicans or Democrats establish control over the chamber. In 2016, Democrats joined with Republicans and independents to hold a 22-18 majority in the last Legislative session. But two key members of that coalition -- Paul Seaton and Jason Grenn -- were unseated Nov. 6.

If Dodge ends up winning, the Legislature would have a 20-20 split, largely along party lines. A caucus needs at least 21 votes to pass a budget.

A victory by LeBon would favor a new Republican House majority that was announced last week, headed up by Rep. David Talerico of Healy.

On Tuesday, Talerico said there won’t be a clear winner until all of the absentee ballots are tallied.

“It’s a pretty narrow margin, I think we’ll just have to wait until Friday to see,” Talerico said.

Control over the chambers of the state Legislature is significant, in large part because of the way the parties diverge over fiscal issues. Democrats are more inclined to support increased education spending and new revenue measures, like taxes, to close the state’s fiscal gap.

Republicans tend to focus more on cutting government spending and are also likely to be more aligned with the new Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy.

At the same time, the undecided Fairbanks race is not the only uncertainty facing Republicans. Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, a hard-line Republican who is known for an uncompromising approach to issues relating to his district, said this week he isn’t a certain “yes” vote on Talerico for speaker.

Eastman told the Daily News Tuesday that he wanted to know if Talerico would commit to the outright repeal of Senate Bill 91, the state’s contentious criminal justice reform law. He also said he would not participate in a majority that included Democrats.

“Who is going to be the 21?” Eastman said. “It’s very difficult to really start talking about anything as far as agenda. if even that number is subject to change.”

In an interview late Tuesday morning, Talerico said he planned to talk to Eastman. He said the caucus would have to meet again after election results became final to sort out its agenda and structure.

Republicans agree on issues like responsible resource development, limited government and improved public safety, Talerico said. But he said that with so many new members, it would likely take longer than usual to come together on a plan.

When it comes to Senate Bill 91, Talerico said there may be elements of the amended law worth keeping.

“A lot of folks have certainly committed to the repeal, but I haven’t gotten a great description about, what exactly does that mean?” Talerico said.

He said, however, that much of the planning activity had stalled pending the outcome of the Fairbanks House race.

Mike Mason, the press secretary for the Democratic-led House Majority coalition, declined to comment Tuesday.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.