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Alaska Legislature

With last ballots counted, North Pole state Sen. John Coghill loses by 16 votes in Republican primary

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: August 29
  • Published August 28

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, speak before the start of a Senate floor session Tuesday, July 9, 2019. Both lost their races in the Republican primary this year. (James Brooks / ADN)

State Sen. John Coghill of North Pole has lost the Republican primary for his Senate seat, becoming the seventh incumbent Republican state lawmaker to lose in this year’s primary election.

Coghill lost by 16 votes to truck-driving challenger Robb Myers, who has never held public office before. Coghill, the son of a signer of the Alaska Constitution, has been in state office for nearly two decades, and Myers was his first primary challenger since 2002.

Myers will face independent candidates Marna Sanford and Evan Eads in the general election.

“I’m feeling pretty good. It’s been a crazy roller coaster the last couple of weeks and the last couple of months,” Myers said.

“I thought it would be close. I didn’t think it would be this close,” he said.

The close result is within the margin for a state-paid recount, but Coghill said he wasn’t sure if he would request one.

“I think the result will probably be pretty close to the same at this point,” he said.

All of the state’s primary elections are on track to be certified by Monday, said Tiffany Montemayor, public relations manager for the Alaska Division of Elections.

Coghill and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, each lost their primary elections to challengers who support a traditional Permanent Fund dividend, rather than the budget-balancing smaller payments approved by lawmakers since 2016.

“I kind of knew I was not in sync with a lot of Republicans over the Permanent Fund,” Coghill said when asked why he thought he lost.

Myers said that when he went door to door, “there were a lot of angry people out there when I was out campaigning, so I knew I had a pretty good shot, but when you go up against somebody who’s been there for so long, it’s tough.”

In addition to the two senators, five House Republicans lost their primary elections: Chuck Kopp, Jennifer Johnston and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage; Mark Neuman of Big Lake; and Sharon Jackson of Eagle River.

Friday was the last day of ballot counting for the Aug. 18 primary, and two House races were decided by margins even closer than Coghill’s. In the Democratic primary for downtown Fairbanks’ House District 1, Christopher Quist defeated Bennie Colbert by eight votes. In the Republican primary for Anchorage’s House District 23, Kathy Henslee beat Connie Dougherty by seven votes.

Statewide turnout was the highest since 2014, but ranked 20th of the 23 primary elections held since 1976.

In the Coghill-Myers race, only 11.9% of the district’s voters participated, and Coghill said he believes the result would have been different if more people voted.

That said, “the voters spoke, and it is what it is,” he said. “I just didn’t get the nod, and that’s the Republicans’ choice.”

Sanford and Eads, who now face Myers in the general election, each said the result was a surprise.

“You don’t have a last name like Coghill and not win the primary,” Sanford said.

Both said that the result won’t change their plans. Neither intends to withdraw from the race before a Monday deadline to do so.

Myers said he planned to talk to Republican Party officials on Friday to begin preparations for the general election. He scheduled that call for the afternoon, “because I’ve got to jump on a truck and head to Prudhoe (Bay) tonight.”

“I’m going to be mixing in some campaign stuff ... but I need to make a little money for a while to pay the mortgage,” he said.

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