Politics

Mixed results in legislative races complicate path to Alaska House majority

House floor

Results announced Wednesday in 59 legislative races strengthened the prospects of a bipartisan coalition governing the Alaska Senate, while complicating the path to forming House leadership.

Republicans lost two seats in the state Senate, with Democrats set to control nine seats when the Legislature convenes in January — two more than they currently have. While Republicans still hold a majority of seats, a yet-to-be-announced majority coalition is expected to include Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Bipartisan coalitions — which most recently have governed the state House — have become a staple of the state Legislature due to ongoing disagreements within the Republican Party, primarily over fiscal policy and the size of the Permanent Fund dividend.

All but one of Alaska’s 60 legislative seats were open this year after a once-a-decade redistricting process. Under Alaska’s new voting system adopted by ballot measure in 2020, the top four vote-getters in an open primary advanced to the general election regardless of party affiliation. In all but one legislative race, fewer than four candidates ran. Only 10 legislative races came down to a ranked-choice tabulation with the leading candidate garnering less than the 50% threshold needed to win outright.

[Current 2022 Alaska general election results]

One such race was an Anchorage Senate district where former Senate President Cathy Giessel won a three-way race against Democrat Roselynn Cacy and incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland, who beat Giessel handily in a 2020 primary with a right-wing platform.

“It shows that Alaskans are really looking for folks that support civic engagement and ethical leadership over divisive partisan politics,” Giessel said Wednesday about the results of her race. “I’m hopeful that Republicans will look at these election results and realize that these extreme positions are not healthy, and it’s not what Alaskans are looking for.”

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[Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wins reelection]

In the state House races, results were mixed. After Wednesday’s ballot tally, Republicans appeared set to control 21 out of 40 seats — the same number they currently control.

In one Anchorage seat, Republican incumbent Tom McKay was leading Democratic challenger Denny Wells by only four votes after ranked choice votes were tabulated. Results in the race won’t be finalized until they are certified by the state review board, which is set to complete its work on Nov. 29. A recount request cannot be filed until after results are certified.

Wells said Wednesday afternoon that a recount request under ranked choice voting was “uncharted territory” but he expected to file one.

[Rep. Mary Peltola wins Alaska’s U.S. House race]

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, who currently serves as House minority leader, won reelection easily. She said her caucus is “thrilled” by the results of ranked choice tabulations on Wednesday. While some tight races were won by Democrats, several seats went narrowly in favor of Republicans — including the one won by McKay.

Tilton said she was optimistic about the prospects of Republicans forming a majority in the House despite the fact that the balance of power — even if McKay retains his lead after a recount — is the same as it was following the 2020 election, when Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans formed a narrow majority coalition.

“We have been working on continuity and being a solid team and solidifying that team and I feel like that’s working in our favor this year,” Tilton said.

[Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy reelected to second term]

Republicans in the House include a broad range of viewpoints that have in recent years been difficult to coalesce under a single leadership. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, is a known member of the far-right group Oath Keepers, and has alienated fellow Republicans by consistently blocking legislation not in line with his strict worldview.

Eastman, who is set to win his reelection bid, faces a legal challenge over his eligibility for office due to his Oath Keepers membership. The outcome of that challenge won’t be known until after results are certified, further complicating Republicans’ efforts to form a majority. But some have already questioned Republicans’ ability to persuade more moderate members of their party to caucus with Eastman.

Bryce Edgmon, an independent House member from Dillingham who previously served as speaker of the House, said Wednesday that given the open questions — including whether McKay and Eastman would hold their seats — it was “too close to call” the makeup of House leadership, and how it would impact the chamber’s legislative agenda.

“It takes a solid 21 to elect a speaker, but it also takes a solid 21 to govern,” Edgmon said.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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