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Primary roundup: Election could change face of Alaska House

  • Author: Richard Mauer
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 16, 2014

Redistricting, retirements and departures are already remaking the Republican-led House, and competitive races in Tuesday's primary could lead to an even bigger shakeup months before the November general election determines the makeup of the Alaska Legislature.

In North Pole, two sitting Republican House members, two-termer Tammie Wilson and freshman Doug Isaacson, both conservatives, found themselves pitted against each other in District 3 after redistricting. In the all-important category of fundraising they are nearly even, so each has about the same opportunity to reach voters through advertising, mailers and signs.

Farther south, Eric Feige, a two-term House member from Chickaloon who oversaw the governor's gas line bill as co-chairman of the Resources Committee, faces two serious primary opponents from Palmer: George Rauscher, who lost to Feige in the 2012 Republican primary by 172 votes, and Jim Colver, a Mat-Su Borough Assembly member with broad recognition among voters and more than twice as much money to spend campaigning as Feige.

Lone Democrats are running in both districts: Sharron Hunter in the North Pole District 3 race, and Mabel Wimmer from Glennallen in the contest for Feige's District 9 seat.

Two West Anchorage House seats are open, one by the decision of Democrat-turned-Republican Lindsey Holmes to not seek re-election, the other by Republican Mia Costello's decision to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Hollis French. A pair of Republicans are challenging each other in both districts.

In Holmes' District 21, which includes Turnagain, Spenard, most of the Coastal Trail neighborhoods and some of the Raspberry Road area south of the airport, businessmen Anand Dubey and Matt Fagnani are battling for the right to face Democrat Matt Claman, the former chair of the Anchorage Assembly. Dubey has been there before. Holmes, then a Democrat, handily beat him in 2012, 4,199 to 3,419.

An India-born engineer who runs a technology company used by himself and other candidates in the primary, Dubey has been significantly outspent by Fagnani, director of the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium, a nonprofit work force development organization for resource industries.

Dubey has raised a little more than $10,000, a small sum for an Anchorage legislative race. His contributors include former conservative banker Dave Cuddy, talk-show host Glen Biegel, and business consultant and blogger Brad Keithley, an advocate of reduced state spending.

From the mid-1980s through the mid-'90s, Fagnani ran the drug-testing arm of the private halfway house company Allvest. The lab was sold to the regional Native corporation NANA in 1998, and Fagnani said he held positions with NANA from 1996 to 2010. From 2012 to 2014, Fagnani was a vice president of the Pebble Partnership, which is seeking to build a massive open-pit metals mine in the Bristol Bay region.

Fagnani contributed more than $10,000 to his own campaign and has raised another $30,000 from others, much of it from NANA officials and from business representatives working with the campaign to defeat the referendum on oil taxes, Ballot Measure 1.

In Costello's District 22, just south of Holmes' in the Sand Lake and West Dimond Boulevard area, attorney Liz Vazquez is in a race against Sherri Jackson, manager of Jewel Lake Plaza and a customer service official at the Jewel Lake Carrs. In 2012, Vazquez lost the Republican primary for the area's Senate seat to Bob Bell, who in turn lost to Democrat French despite the district's Republican lean.

This time around for the House, Vazquez has personally contributed $2,500 of the $9,400 she's raised, with some of the rest coming from other attorneys and ex-banker Cuddy. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink each kicked in $100. Jackson's campaign has $7,900, mostly from small contributors. Both have spent most of their money on signs and mailers.

The Democrat running in House District 22 is former Anchorage assessor Marty McGee, the official fired from the State Assessment Review Board by Gov. Sean Parnell after the board sent big property tax bills to the owners of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

In sprawling House District 6, an open seat in the Interior around Fairbanks, Healy Republican Dave Talerico has built a $12,200 war chest with contributions largely from officials at Usibelli Coal Mine, where he works, and from the tourism industry. Opponent Tad Dunning of Tok, a five-year Alaska resident born in Wyoming, has contributed nearly all the $3,800 he has for his campaign. The Democrat is Wilson Justin of Slana.

House District 12, encompassing the Knik River area north of Anchorage and the Butte, a piece of Palmer and the Knik-Fairview area south of Wasilla in the Mat-Su Borough, was opened when Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, decided to run for the Senate. Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Ron Arvin and legislative staffer Cathy Tilton, an aide to Rep. Mark Neuman, are running for the seat.

Both have raised large sums -- Tilton $55,200, Arvin $36,500 -- and have produced radio commercials. Both have opened their own wallets for their campaigns. Tilton lists personal contributions of $36,400, Arvin $10,000. Though Tilton says in her own campaign literature that she's a strong supporter of the oil tax cuts in Senate Bill 21 and opposes the Ballot Measure 1 referendum, most of the oil and anti-referendum money in the race has gone to Arvin.

Gretchen Wehmhoff of Chugiak has the Democratic spot in the district.

There are also Republican primaries in House District 32 to replace retiring Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, and in District 36, where Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, has retired.

On the Democratic side, the rivalry between Kotzebue and Barrow has surfaced again in District 40, which stretches across the top of Alaska from the coast of the Chukchi Sea to the Canadian border. The incumbent is Barrow freshman Rep. Ben Nageak.

Nageak is officially a Democrat but he caucuses with Republicans and rarely breaks ranks with his adoptive party during floor votes. Most of his floor speeches have been ringing endorsements of development.

Nageak is opposed by Dean Westlake of Kotzebue. Nageak has out-raised Westlake, $21,500 to $9,400, but Westlake has drawn the most money recently.

Nageak's support has come largely from the oil industry and other backers of the oil-tax cuts, including Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash, who gave $500. Nageak has also given about $2,000 of his own money to the campaign, and Republican legislators have shown their support: Anchorage Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux ($500) and Mike Hawker ($100), as well as former Sen. Drue Pearce ($250).

Anchorage Democrats, a subgroup of the state party, gave $1,300 to Westlake and provided $2,000 worth of help for this campaign. Westlake used $1,500 of his own money and has contributions from supporters of the referendum to repeal Senate Bill 21, including Cindy Roberts ($100) and attorney Robin Brena ($500). But consultant and blogger Keithley, a fan of Senate Bill 21, also gave Westlake $500.

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