Tuesday’s primaries could help remake Alaska Legislature
Just days away from Alaska's August primary elections on Tuesday, that barrage of billboards finally seems to blend into the landscape.
As ad after ad plays on the radio during Alaskans' morning and afternoon commutes, if you think there’s been more campaign activity than usual it’s not your imagination.
This Tuesday’s primary election is more crowded with candidates than Alaskans have seen in many years, especially for Republicans.
There are 29 races for legislative seats, and all but five are in the GOP primary.
Overall in the House, there are more than 100 candidates seeking office.
At the same time, there are an unusually high number of lawmakers leaving the Legislature.
Five state senators have decided not to seek re-election. Three are Republicans – Mike Dunleavy and Kevin Meyer of Anchorage, as well as Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River. Dunleavy and Meyer are running for governor and lieutenant governor respectively, while MacKinnon is retiring. The two Democrats, Berta Gardner of Anchorage and Dennis Egan of Juneau, are retiring. Combined, they make up a quarter of the 20-member Senate.
In the House, nine members chose not to seek re-election. Two are from Fairbanks – David Guttenberg and Scott Kawasaki, both Democrats. Guttenberg is retiring, while Kawasaki is running for the Senate.
Two Eagle River representatives also have their eye on the Senate – Lora Reinbold and Dan Saddler, both Republicans, hope to move into MacKinnon’s seat in the Senate.
Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, also hopes to jump to the Senate.
In Juneau, two Democrats are also leaving the House – Sam Kito and Justin Parish, which results in a clean sweep for the entire Juneau delegation.
In Kenai, Rep. Mike Chenault initially signed up for the governor’s race in the GOP primary, but later pulled out and decided to retire from politics.
As a result of these departures, about a fourth of Alaska's 40 current state representatives will not return. If there are upsets in the primary and general elections, there could be more turnover.
Mike Porcaro, a longtime Anchorage talk radio host, believes anger over crime and reduced Permanent Fund dividends have sparked more interest in running for office.
“The Legislature and the governor have weaponized the Permanent Fund. And it’s the people's money,“ Porcaro said. “There’s anger; it’s visceral. You just mention crime and my phones explode.”
But Porcaro believes the change is healthy.
“This is good for the state,” he said. “Hopefully people will get energized by it and more involved.”
Porcaro says if voter turnout materializes on Tuesday, it’ll be confirmation that state government is about to change in a big way. He says this is the type of election which comes only once every 15 to 20 years.
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