Legislature Candidates Lined Up for 50 Seats

By JAMES BROOKS
Alaska Beacon
    Alaska’s legislative election season officially opened at 5 p.m. Saturday, the deadline for candidates to enter this year’s races.
    Fifty of the Legislature’s 60 seats are on the ballot this year, and at stake is control of the state House and Senate. The candidate fields could change slightly before the Aug. 20 statewide primary; candidates can remove their names from the ballot until June 27.

“I voted” stickers are seen on display at a polling station in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley in 2022. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)


    The Senate is currently controlled by a 17-member, bipartisan supermajority, and wins by enough Republican candidates could flip the Senate to Republican control. Democrats lack the support needed to unilaterally control the Senate.
    The state House is controlled by a 23-person, predominantly Republican coalition that includes 20 Republicans, two Democrats and an independent. The minority caucus consists of 16 people, mostly Democrats. One Republican, David Eastman of Wasilla, is not a member of either group.
    If enough independents and Democrats win Republican-held seats, the current coalition minority could take control of the House. On the flip side, wins by Republicans over independents and Democrats could give Republicans more firm control of the House.
Eight candidates run unopposed
    Of the 50 legislative races on ballots this fall, eight have just one candidate. Barring write-in challengers or an unexpected drop-out, each of those candidates will be seated in the Capitol when the session convenes in January.
    In the Senate, Democrats Jesse Kiehl of Juneau and Donny Olson of Golovin are unopposed.
    In the House, independent Rebecca Himschoot of Sitka; Democrats Sara Hannan of Juneau and Zack Fields of Anchorage; and Republicans Dan Saddler of Eagle River, DeLena Johnson of Palmer and Cathy Tilton of Wasilla are unopposed.
    Ten state Senate seats are not on the ballot until 2026. Those are Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage; Loki Tobin, D-Anchorage; Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; Robert Myers, R-North Pole; and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.
    Eleven legislators are needed for control of the Senate; the unopposed and non-ballot senators include nine members of the Senate’s current bipartisan supermajority and all three Republicans in the minority.
Little competition in primary
    Under Alaska’s voting system, the top four vote-getters in the August primary election advance to the November general election. If there are four or fewer candidates, all of them advance to November.
    This year, only three legislative races have more than four candidates, and that number could drop if candidates withdraw before the June 29 deadline.
    In Eagle River, three Republicans and a Democrat have filed to challenge incumbent Sen. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River and a member of the Senate’s bipartisan supermajority.
    The retirement of Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, opened competition for his seat. Two Republicans, a Democrat, an Alaskan Independence Party candidate and an undeclared candidate have registered for that race.
    One of the Republicans running to replace Bishop is Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, which opened Cronk’s House seat to challengers. Six people have registered as candidates, including four Republicans, a Libertarian and a Democrat.
Three House members seek Senate seats
    In addition to Cronk’s decision to run for Senate, two other Republican members of the House have announced their intention to quit the House in order to run for Senate.
    Tom McKay of Anchorage is challenging incumbent Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, and Ben Carpenter of Nikiski is challenging Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski.
    Bjorkman and Claman are members of the Senate’s bipartisan supermajority, and both McKay and Carpenter have said they are seeking to create a Republican-controlled Senate majority.
Familiar faces return
    Several races across the state are effective re-runs of the 2022 legislative election. Two years ago, Republican Justin Ruffridge defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Gillham of Soldotna. Gillham is again opposing Ruffridge.
    In Anchorage, Republican Julie Coulombe narrowly defeated independent Walter Featherly during the 2022 general election. Featherly is again challenging Coulombe.
    Also in Anchorage, Democrat Cliff Groh defeated Republican incumbent Rep. David Nelson two years ago. Nelson is again running against Groh this year.
    Farther south in Anchorage, Democrat Ted Eischeid lost to Republican Stanley Wright two years ago, and Eischeid has filed to challenge Wright again.
    In Big Lake, north of Anchorage, Republican Doyle Holmes lost to Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe two years ago, and Holmes is trying again this year.
    In Fairbanks’ downtown legislative district, Democrat Maxine Dibert defeated Republican incumbent Bart LeBon two years ago. Now, LeBon is challenging Dibert.
    In far western Alaska, longtime Democratic incumbent Neal Foster had an unexpectedly close 2022 race against Tyler Ivanoff, who is again seeking Foster’s seat this year.
    Other races feature former legislators who are seeking to return to the Capitol. In Southeast Alaska, former Republican Rep. Bill Thomas is challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Andi Story.
    In Anchorage, former Republican Sen. Mia Costello is running for a House seat held by fellow Republican Tom McKay. McKay chose to challenge Democratic Sen. Matt Claman, leaving his House seat open. Regular candidate Dustin Darden has also filed for the House seat, as did Democratic candidate Denny Wells, who lost to McKay by seven votes in 2022.
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