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Alaska Legislature

GOP poised to retake Alaska House as Seaton, Grenn defeated

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: November 7, 2018
  • Published November 7, 2018

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, speaks at the state Capitol in Juneau on January 17, 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

Republicans were poised to recapture control of the Alaska House of Representatives on Tuesday night at the same time voters were on track to elect a Republican governor to office.

Two incumbents, Rep. Paul Seaton and Rep. Jason Grenn, lost their seats to Republican challengers. A third seat, in Fairbanks' House District 1, was set to flip from Democrat to Republican.

Meanwhile, the president of the Alaska Senate, Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly, was holding on to a razor-thin margin against Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki in a high-profile and hard-fought race that put the direction of the Senate on the line. It pitted the charismatic Kawasaki against the conservative Kelly, who has held considerable sway in the Legislature for years.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Kelly was leading Kawasaki by just 11 votes. A spokesman for Kawasaki's campaign, Will Jodwalis, said Kawasaki's campaign wasn't ready to concede Tuesday night.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, addresses reporters at a news conference at the Alaska Capitol in Juneau on Friday, June 16, 2017. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN archive)

The votes counted Tuesday night do not include absentee and questioned ballots, and the number of ballots left to be tallied vary by district.

The key races for seats in the state House became referendums on lawmakers' decisions and views about the Permanent Fund dividend, crime and taxes. Republicans had also vowed to reclaim control over the chamber after losing it in 2016 for the first time in more than two decades, when three moderate Republicans — Seaton, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux — joined Democrats and independents to form a new majority coalition.

Seaton, whose tenure in the House has extended nearly two decades, was soundly defeated Tuesday night by Republican Sarah Vance. Vance garnered 59 percent of the vote to Seaton's 40 percent.

Seaton was a longtime Republican but registered as a nonpartisan for the first time this election. He said he wanted to see a new revenue measure to balance the budget. Vance, meanwhile, campaigned on calling for cuts and no new taxes.

Grenn, an independent elected in 2016, was losing to Republican Sara Rasmussen by 5 percentage points Tuesday night with all precincts reporting. Rasmussen, who campaigned on an anti-crime and anti-Senate Bill 91 platform, said in an interview Tuesday night that voters thought Grenn would lean more conservative and felt "deceived" that Grenn had caucused with Democrats.

Republicans also appeared poised to flip Kawasaki's former seat in Fairbanks, House District 1. Late Tuesday night, Republican Bart LeBon, a retired banker, held a 79-vote lead over Democrat Kathryn Dodge.

Not all of the Republicans in the majority fell: Incumbent LeDoux was on track to keep her East Anchorage seat. She beat back a Democrat and three write-in candidates, including Jake Sloan, a Republican who got an enthusiastic push from the Alaska Republican Party, which is no fan of LeDoux's.

LeDoux's win would come despite a primary victory that was overshadowed by allegations of voter fraud. LeDoux has said she's done nothing wrong.

Stutes, the third Republican who joined the largely Democratic House majority coalition, also won handily against a Democratic challenger.

But for members of the Republican minority, no seats were lost, Alaska GOP chair Tuckerman Babcock pointed out. In East Anchorage, incumbent Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt fielded a strong Democratic bid from Liz Snyder, but Pruitt was up by 214 votes early Wednesday morning.

In another competitive race, in South Anchorage, Republican Josh Revak beat Democrat Pat Higgins by a solid 4-point margin with all precincts reporting. Revak had ousted incumbent House minority leader Charisse Millett in the August primary.

The Republican victories were bolstered by heavy advertising by independent expenditure groups. One umbrella organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, financed at least four different groups. Those groups generally supported conservative Republican candidates and opposed independent candidates and moderate Republicans who caucused with Democrats, campaign finance reports show.

One, Families of the Last Frontier, spent at least $271,225 statewide by Election Day, and received more than $400,000 in donations from the Republican State Leadership Committee, records show. Another, Interior Votes, received at least $183,700, which went toward supporting the Republican candidates and opposing the Democratic candidates in the Fairbanks area. Two other groups, Alaska for a Sound Economy and Alaska Accountability Project, documented expenditures that were more focused on competitive races in Anchorage, including supporting Rasmussen.

On the Democratic side, a union-led independent expenditure group spent more than $100,000 on efforts to support members of the Democratic-controlled House majority coalition, records show. The group Putting Alaskans First ran ads supporting Kawasaki, LeDoux, Seaton and Higgins and opposing Pruitt, the Republican incumbent in South Anchorage.

One group was specifically focused on re-electing independents: Grenn, Seaton, Chris Dimond in Juneau and Rep. Dan Ortiz in Ketchikan. That group raised about $25,000 for campaign activity, records show. Only Ortiz won his race.

Matt Tunseth contributed reporting.