Politics

Tight races are expected this summer in dozens of Alaska legislative districts. Here’s a breakdown.

Millions of dollars will be spent on this year’s U.S. House and Senate races in Alaska, with an open seat in U.S. Congress and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski facing a Trump-endorsed opponent.

But arguably more consequential are the dozens of races that determine which lawmakers control the Alaska House and Senate. The annual legislative session in Juneau decides crucial questions like the amount of state spending on schools, the size of the Permanent Fund dividend, funding for courts and law enforcement and state services from state parks upkeep to snow plowing.

This year is unusual: All but one of Alaska’s 60 seats in the House and Senate are up for grabs in this year’s election, thanks to a once-in-a-decade redistricting process that shuffled legislative boundaries. The deadline for candidates to file was last week, leaving an array of incumbents and newcomers in this year’s field.

Many candidates are running unopposed, and many contested legislative elections still aren’t expected to be close. But the Daily News pored over the 59 races and identified roughly two dozen that will likely be hard fought over the summer and fall. A breakdown is below.

One caveat: Under Alaska’s new system of open primaries and ranked choice voting, candidates are only eliminated from the primary if five or more are running — which is the case in just one Fairbanks House race. That means this year’s primary will function as little more than a poll that gives candidates, and voters, a sense of where each one stands three months before the general election.

Another big change is that with the elimination of the Republican, Democratic and other party primaries, more than one candidate can be listed as affiliated with a party on the general election ballot, which is likely to lead to interesting Republican-on-Republican and Democrat-on-Democrat races in November. And unlike in previous years, there’s no provision for political parties to replace a candidate if one drops out.

Senate District D — Kenai Peninsula

Republican Peter Micciche has held this seat for a decade, but facing serious opposition from two GOP opponents, he’s retiring — a decision he attributes to a desire to dedicate more time to his family. Tuckerman Babcock, a longtime Republican activist and former top aide to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, is running. His main competition is Republican Jesse Bjorkman, a Kenai borough Assembly member, teacher and sportsman who’s running as a conservative, but who’s nonetheless critical of steep budget cuts proposed by Dunleavy in 2019 while Babcock was his chief of staff. Independent Andy Cizek is also in the race.

Senate District E — South Anchorage/Turnagain Arm

This race is a rematch of sorts of the 2020 Senate race in this district, when Roger Holland, running as a deeply conservative Republican challenger to incumbent Republican Cathy Giessel, won the GOP primary in a landslide. Now, Giessel, whose positions opposing Dunleavy’s 2019 budget cuts gained her some moderate support, is assured of advancing to this year’s general election against Holland — with a different electorate than the GOP primary. Republican Mark Cox and Democrat Roselynn Cacy are also in the race.

Senate District H — West Anchorage/Southwest Anchorage

Matt Claman is finishing his fourth term as a Democratic member of the state House, where he’s earned a reputation as a low-key but effective lawmaker. Mia Costello, the Republican incumbent, has served in the state House and Senate for more than a decade, building a solidly GOP, pro-business track record. This race pits two seasoned legislators with starkly different political views against each other, in what’s likely to be one of this election season’s highest-profile matchups.

Senate District J — U-Med/Mountain View

This Senate election features three serious Democrats all competing for the same seat. Geran Tarr is finishing a decade of service in the state House, where she’s sometimes clashed with her Democratic colleagues. Forrest Dunbar narrowly lost his campaign for Anchorage mayor last year and still serves on the Assembly. Drew Cason is a former legislative staffer turned consultant; he launched his campaign with a meme-like video. Republican Andrew Satterfield, a janitor, is also in the race, but in this Democratic-leaning district, the action will be between Cason, Tarr and Dunbar.

Senate District L — Eagle River/Chugiak/Peters Creek

Two Republican House members headline this race for an Eagle River Senate seat. Kelly Merrick has carved out a moderate niche in the state House, breaking from the GOP minority in exchange for a finance committee co-chair position in her chamber’s largely-Democratic coalition majority. Ken McCarty, meanwhile, has taken a party line approach and stuck with the GOP minority. Look for this race to hinge on Merrick’s split from her party and how well it served her district. Two other Republicans, Clayton Trotter and Joe Wright, are in the race, too.

Senate District O — Susitna Valley/East Mat-Su/Valdez

This race looks to be something akin to a heavyweight title fight, with arch-conservative Republican incumbent Mike Shower running against GOP challenger Doug Massie, who was head of the state wildlife troopers until a week ago. Shower has solid conservative bona fides but has frequently clashed with members of his Republican majority over their more moderate positions. Massie says he’d take a more “collaborative” approach to legislating, and boasts an endorsement from and tight connections to the state troopers’ union.

Senate District P — Fairbanks

Democrat Scott Kawasaki won this seat four years ago, narrowly edging the incumbent Senate president at the time, Republican Pete Kelly. Kawasaki is something of a populist Democrat who’s pushed for big Permanent Fund dividends; this year, he faces a challenge from Republican Jim Matherly, the Fairbanks city mayor. Republican Alex Jafre is in this race, as well.

House District 6 — Kachemak Bay/Ninilchik/Kasilof

Homer Rep. Sarah Vance, one of the Legislature’s most socially conservative Republicans, defeated incumbent GOP Homer Rep. Paul Seaton in 2018 and held off independent Kelly Cooper in 2020. Now she faces another independent, Louie Flora, a Bristol Bay commercial salmon fisherman and longtime Juneau representative for the Alaska Center conservation group. Independent Ginger Bryant is also running.

House District 7 — Northern Kenai/Soldotna

Ron Gillham, then a Kenai Republican activist, came within 75 votes of beating longtime Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche in surprising GOP primary results in 2018. Then, he won this House seat in 2020, when it was left open by the death of the incumbent. Like the Senate race in this area between Babcock and Bjorkman, this election will show whether Kenai Peninsula voters want to keep an uncompromising conservative like Gillham or a more collaborative Republican like Justin Ruffridge, a pharmacist and small businessman who serves on Soldotna’s city council.

House District 10 — Oceanview/Klatt

This slightly GOP-leaning South Anchorage district has no incumbent, leaving an opening for Republican former Rep. Craig Johnson to launch a campaign to return to the Legislature. He faces Sue Levi, a Democrat who’s lost three previous bids for the House in 2016, 2018 and 2020, along with a new Democratic candidate, architect and schools activist Caroline Storm. Libertarian Mikel Insalaco is also running.

House District 11 — Anchorage Hillside

Republican Rep. James Kaufman currently represents this Anchorage district, but he’s now running for state Senate. In a district that leans heavily Republican, there are two GOP candidates: Julie Coulombe, president of a local community council, and Ross Bieling, a longtime GOP activist and owner of a medical device company. Walt Featherly, a former Anchorage School Board president who works as the top attorney for the Southwest Alaska Native regional corporation Calista, is running as an independent.

House District 13 — Taku/Campbell

The redistricting board placed two Democratic incumbents, Chris Tuck and Andy Josephson, in this same central Anchorage district. Both have filed for re-election, though they say they’re still negotiating and that one will ultimately withdraw. Whoever remains will face Republican Kathy Henslee, a conservative Republican who’s run unsuccessfully for the Anchorage Assembly and state House, along with Alaska Independence Party candidate Timothy Huit.

House District 16 — West Anchorage

Two incumbents, Democrat Matt Claman and Republican Sara Rasmussen, live in this liberal-leaning district, but Claman is running for state Senate and Rasmussen is not seeking re-election. Democratic creative professional Jennie Armstrong has filed to run, along with Republican former Rep. Liz Vazquez. Rick Beckes, a retiree, is the Alaska Constitution Party candidate, and maintenance man Joel McKinney is also running as a Republican.

House District 17 — Downtown Anchorage

This district pits two incumbent Democrats against each other. Harriet Drummond, a graphic designer, has represented Spenard in the House for a decade, and served on the Anchorage Assembly and school board before that. Zack Fields has represented the downtown area since 2019, and has also worked in the state labor department and as a Democratic Party operative.

House District 18 — Government Hill/JBER

Republican Rep. David Nelson, an officer in the Army National Guard, currently represents this Anchorage swing district. He faces two Democrats who have run unsuccessfully for the Legislature before, Cliff Groh and Lyn Franks.

House District 21 — South Muldoon

Democratic Rep. Liz Snyder is not seeking re-election after a single term representing this left-leaning district. She’s endorsed Donna Mears, a civil and environmental engineer running as a Democrat. Forrest Wolfe, a longtime Republican legislative aide, has also filed to run, along with independents Ian Sharrock and Peter Knox.

House District 22 — Russian Jack/North Muldoon

In this left-leaning, open district, Stanley Wright, a former aide to GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy, is one Republican candidate. The other is Lisa Simpson, who worked as an aide to former GOP Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux before both were charged with felony-level voter fraud connected to LeDoux’s 2018 re-election campaign. Ted Eischeid, the Democrat in the race, works as a planner for the Mat-Su Borough.

House District 24 — North Eagle River/Chugiak

There are two GOP incumbent representatives in this district, Kelly Merrick and Ken McCarty, but both are running for the state Senate seat left open by the retirement of Republican Lora Reinbold. Now, two former Republican representatives who lost primary races in 2018 and 2020 — Dan Saddler and Sharon Jackson, respectively — are running again. The Democrat in the race is Daryl Nelson.

House District 27 — Wasilla/Meadow Lakes

Incumbent Rep. David Eastman has built a reputation, since his election in 2016, as one of the Legislature’s most socially conservative and uncompromising Republicans — to the point where the GOP House minority caucus ejected him earlier this year. He fended off a primary challenge from a more moderate Republican in 2020, but this year, to be re-elected under Alaska’s new voting system, Eastman will have to defeat Wasilla City Council member Stu Graham in the general election, which has a less conservative electorate. Republican Brendan Carpenter is also in the race.

House District 28 — Wasilla

Four Republicans are running in this Wasilla district with no incumbent. Among them is businessman and Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Jesse Sumner, who lost the 2020 GOP primary to Eastman. Dental hygienist Rachel Allen and Jessica Wright — whose husband, Stephen, is running for state Senate in the same area — are also running. And so is Steve Menard, the former Wasilla City Council member who was recalled over revelations that he trashed a hotel room on a city-paid trip to Sitka a decade ago.

House District 35 — Ester/Chena/UAF

Democratic Rep. Adam Wool represents this district but is not running for re-election. Now, it’s the only legislative race with five candidates, which means that one will be eliminated in the nonpartisan August primary. Ashley Carrick, Wool’s current chief of staff in the Legislature, is running as the Democrat; Tim Parker, the former board president of Alaska’s largest education union, is running as an independent. Kevin McKinley, a tattoo business owner who’s unsuccessfully campaigned for the Legislature before, is a Republican in the race, along with Ruben McNeill, and Kieran Brown is the Alaska Constitution Party candidate.

House District 39 — Bering Straits/Yukon Delta

Tyler Ivanoff came within 100 votes, or some 5%, of knocking off incumbent Nome Rep. Neal Foster in the 2020 Democratic primary. Now, Ivanoff, who lives in the village of Shishmaref, is running against Foster again, this time as the Alaska Independence Party candidate.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at ADN and Alaska Public Media. He’s reported around the state and loves cross-country skiing.

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