Winner Undecided in Special Election

By JAMES BROOKS

Alaska Beacon

Democratic candidate Mary Peltola left election day leading Alaska’s special election for U.S. House, but the state’s new ranked choice voting system may leave Republican candidate and former governor Sarah Palin the ultimate winner.

As of 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, with 323 of 402 precincts reporting, Peltola had earned 38.4% of first-choice votes in a race that will determine who fills Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat until January, completing the term left unfinished by the death of Congressman Don Young earlier this year.

Trailing Peltola was Palin, a Republican, with 32.6% of first-choice votes, and Republican Nick Begich III was in third with 29% of first-choice votes.

Many ballots remain to be counted, and some can arrive as late as Aug. 31 and still be added to the total. 

Under Alaska’s new ranked choice election system, the candidate in third place on Aug. 31, the last date for ballots to arrive from overseas, will be eliminated.

Voters were given a chance to select a second choice, and anyone who had the eliminated candidate as their first choice will have their votes go to their second choice instead.

The winner is the candidate with the most votes after that process.

Before the initial results were announced, Peltola said she felt good.

“We’ve reached out to 80,000 Alaskans over the last few days — Republicans, nonpartisan, Democrat — and we’re getting very positive feedback about the positive campaign that we’ve run and staying on message and keeping it on what Alaskans want and Alaskans’ needs,” she said Tuesday night.

But if Begich stays in third, political commentators have said they expect many of his voters may have Palin, a fellow Republican, as their second choice. If that’s the case — which won’t be known until the 31st — Palin will win.

The alternatives are leaving their second choice blank, picking a write-in or picking Peltola herself. If enough Begich voters have picked those alternatives, Peltola will win.

During her campaign for House, Palin denounced the ranked choice voting system, which was installed by voters in a 2020 ballot measure. Now, she’s likely to be its first beneficiary.

Pam Purvis, voting at Rogers Park Elementary School in Anchorage, said she picked Mary Peltola first and wants to see her in Congress as soon as possible. 

“For four months, let’s make history,” she said, referring to the fact that, if elected, Peltola would be the first Alaska Native member of Congress. 

She said Palin was her least favorite of the candidates, behind Tara Sweeney, a Republican who missed the cutoff for Tuesday’s special general election. 

“I think Alaska deserves better,” Purvis said.

Brooke Cusack, who held signs for both Palin and U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka at an Anchorage street corner, said, “I’ve always trusted Sarah and I think that she would lead us a great way in Congress. It’s a choice I didn’t see coming, but I fully support it. I also support Nick as well,” she said. 

She does not like ranked choice voting and declined to say if she used that option.

Peltola said she’s hopeful that many conservative and Republican voters will have ranked her second.

“I’ve been asking people directly – like I was at the Fairbanks Golden Days parade and when I’d see somebody with a sign either Sarah or Nick, I’d ask them, ‘Hey, would you consider me as your second-choice vote?’” she said. “And it was very favorable, the reactions that I got: a lot of laughter, a lot of thumbs up, a lot of positivity.”

Turnout was the highest for a primary election since at least 2014. With 80% of precincts reporting and thousands of absentee ballots still outstanding, turnout was at 26% of registered voters. (Turnout in 2014, boosted by a referendum on an oil tax proposal, hit 39%)

In addition to Tuesday’s special U.S. House race, voters were asked to vote in the primary election that will pick four candidates for Nov. 8’s general U.S. House election.

The winner of that vote will serve in Congress for a full two-year term.

As of Tuesday night, Peltola, Palin and Begich were running in first, second and third, followed by Sweeney, who missed the cutoff for the special U.S. House election and ran a write-in campaign.

With 323 of 402 precincts reporting, Peltola had 35.1% of the vote, followed by Palin at 31.4%, Begich at 27% and Sweeney at 3.6%. 

Anton McParland, Peltola’s campaign manager, said her campaign doesn’t plan to let down its energy while it waits for results on the 31st. Instead, it’ll be turning its attention to the Nov. 8 general election.

“That part of the campaign is going to continue for the next two weeks while we wait, because we’re just going to keep it up for the general,” he said. 

Sweeney, who joined supporters to wave signs on an Anchorage street corner, said, “I’m really focused on the general election and the longer-term seat,” she said. “My goal has always been to get into the top four in either election. And my focus now is on the general.”

 

(https://alaskabeacon.com/author/james-brooks. Yereth Rosen and Andrew Kitchenman also contributed to the story.)

 

Dunleavy Has Lead in Governor Primary

BY ANDREW KITCHENMAN

Alaska Beacon

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy received nearly twice as many votes as his nearest rival in the primary for governor, with more than half of Alaskans’ votes reported on Tuesday.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, and Democratic former state Rep. Les Gara were running neck and neck for second place. And Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce was leading over state Rep. Christopher Kurka as the more conservative alternative to Dunleavy in fourth place.

Other than deciding the fourth candidate in the ranked choice general election in November, the primary was essentially an opinion poll, with Dunleavy, Walker and Gara all advancing. Dunleavy said he was pleased with the early returns, in voters’ first chance to weigh in on him since he was elected. 

“We feel good about where we are, but this is only the start of the race,” he said in a statement. He’s running with former Corrections commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom as his running mate in the first Alaska election in which candidates for governor can choose the lieutenant governor candidates.

Earlier in the evening, Dunleavy said he would analyze the results thoroughly. 

“You’re talking to an old college basketball player, and you kind of look at the game tape, you take things apart, and all campaigns can improve, so we’ll take a look if we’ve got any holes anywhere and shore them up,” he said. 

It was the first primary since 1966 in which any Alaskan could vote for candidates from any party. With more than 140,000 votes counted, Gara was 757 votes ahead of Walker, with each hovering around 22% of the votes compared with Dunleavy’s 42%.

Gara said the primary “is just a pit stop on the way to November.” He said his message of “jobs, education and a woman’s right to choose” was resonating with voters. And he noted that Republican voters have traditionally turned out at a much higher rate than Democrats in Alaska primaries. His running mate, Jessica Cook, is a teacher.

Walker said Tuesday afternoon that he felt good about his campaign heading into the general election. He added that many of his voters aren’t used to voting in primaries, which under the old system were heavily partisan. He didn’t face a primary when he was elected in 2014 and ran for re-election in 2018, since independents could petition to directly join the general election ballot. Now all candidates but write-ins must enter the primary.  

“Our support is in the middle,” Walker said of him and his running mate Heidi Drygas, a former Department of Labor commissioner who is a registered Democrat. 

Both Walker and Gara said that they would be the strongest challenger to Dunleavy. Both are aiming to be preferred by more voters than the other, but also to be the second choice of those whose first preference is the other. 

Both Pierce and Kurka ran to Dunleavy’s right. With 69% of precincts reporting, Pierce was at 7% while Kurka had 4%.

Pierce said before the results were reported that his campaign had been effective. 

“We really worked hard to raise funds so we could go out and travel and meet voters,” he said, adding that he feels he succeeded in offering Alaskans an alternative. He also said his candidacy had been strengthened by his running mate, Edie Grunwald, a retired Air Force colonel.

Kurka has highlighted his social conservatism and criticized Dunleavy’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said before results were announced that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade helped focus voters on candidates’ positions on abortion. And he said that would benefit him as a consistent opponent.

“We need to put the judiciary in its proper role,” Kurka said.

Kurka expressed hope that his outreach to absentee-ballot voters would help increase his vote count. His running mate Paul Hueper is a business owner.

Votes will be counted in the primary through Aug. 31.

 

https://alaskabeacon.com/author/Andrew-Kitchenman/

Some Alaskans See Harm in Climate Bill

By James Brooks and Yereth Rosen

Alaska Beacon

The $370 billion climate bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Sunday is America’s biggest-ever response to climate change, expected to both reduce the national deficit and significantly cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

But here in Alaska, environmental organizers are worried that tradeoffs in the bill will lead to more mining and drilling in the state in order to accomplish national goals.

“Our view on this bill is ultimately, it causes more harm than good,” said Emily Sullivan, communications director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

“It does feel like they’re trading — they’re sacrificing Alaska to get climate gains elsewhere,” said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney and policy justice lead for Native Movement.

The bill has yet to pass the U.S. House, but that is expected by the end of the week, whereupon it will go to the desk of President Joe Biden, who has said he will sign it.

 

Financial incentives

At the heart of the climate bill are tax credits that give financial incentives for green-power projects, home energy efficiency (things like heat pumps, rooftop solar and insulation), and electric vehicles.

“We’re really excited about the whole of the investments,” said Jenny-Marie Stryker, political director for the Alaska Center.

“There’s a lot of things we’re excited about … but we also recognize that this bill is not perfect,” she said.

Getting the electric-vehicle incentive requires a car builder to use batteries at least partially made with materials mined or processed in the United States.

The supply of those materials is limited, and Alaska is home to a significant number of as-yet-undeveloped mineral deposits, which could encourage mining here. That’s a plus for business interests but it’s negative for environmental groups who might otherwise be happy with the bill.

“We’re very concerned that this bill will cause projects like the Ambler mining road to be fast-tracked,” Sullivan said.

The Ambler road, a project of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, would link mining projects in northwest Alaska to the Dalton Highway. It’s been challenged by environmental groups who have filed lawsuits to stop it.

The bill explicitly calls for an oil and gas lease sale in the federal waters of Cook Inlet. The federal government canceled a sale earlier this year, citing a lack of interest.

Liz Mering, advocacy director at Cook Inletkeeper, said that section “is just incredibly disappointing and kind of overshadows the bill for us.”

Public testimony during the sale’s environmental impact statement process had been nearly unanimous against allowing it to go forward, and the only support for it came from industry groups, not actual companies that would have been bidding, Mering said. When the federal government canceled the sale earlier this year, that had been the right thing, she said.

“People had stood up, talked to their government, and the government had listened,” Mearing said.

“For a community that is feeling a little bit sacrificed for political machinations, it’s hard,” she said.

The Cook Inlet sale is the only one explicitly required in Alaska under the bill, but a different section could force the federal government to open more land to oil and gas extraction.

The section, known as Section 50265, states that in order to allow a solar or wind project on federal lands, the federal government must have an oil and gas lease sale beforehand. 

The Center for Biological Diversity called it a “poison pill.”

Environmental groups here are still working out the implications of that section, but the plain language seems to create an incentive to hold more oil and gas lease sales here.

“They could hold an oil and gas lease sale here in Alaska in order to put up a solar plant in Nevada,” Noblin said.

Staff in the offices of Alaska’s senators, Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, did not respond to requests for an interview about the bill’s components. 

Both senators voted against the bill’s passage and issued prepared statements afterward voicing their opposition to it.

Despite their opposition, the bill contains items that each senator has prioritized.

Sullivan has repeatedly and consistently advocated faster permitting processes for construction and development projects, and the bill sets speedier timelines for some permitting processes and requires the president to designate a list of 25 high-priority projects that will receive preferential treatment in the permitting process.

When the U.S. Senate approved the bill on a party-line vote, it marked the end of months of negotiations among Democrats, who needed to garner the support of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Manchin, in an April 8 news conference at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage, reiterated that he would not support any effort to strip oil and gas leasing from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a priority of some environmentalists.

“I will take the lead from my dear friend, Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She knows Alaska better than anybody I know,” Manchin said. 

Manchin was in Anchorage to attend the conference, but he has also endorsed Murkowski and has been campaigning for her.

In 2017, Murkowski successfully amended a tax law in order to require the federal government to hold two oil and gas lease sales in ANWR. One sale has taken place, but the result of that sale is tied up in court, and it isn’t clear when a second sale will take place.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee, which opposes ANWR drilling, issued a message saying its leaders “denounce” Senate leadership for failing to reverse the mandate.

“In the Arctic, we’re experiencing a warming climate at four times the rate as the rest of the world, yet Congress has chosen to ignore the health of the Arctic and the Gwich’in way of life by failing to stop this destructive and failed oil and gas program,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We will never stop fighting to protect these sacred lands, the Porcupine caribou, and our communities.”

 

https://alaskabeacon.com/author/james-brooks-yereth-rosen

 

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AK COVID-19

At a Glance

(updated 9-28-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Wednesday, September 28.

New cases as of Wednesday: 546

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 282,928

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,329

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,955

Case Rate per 100,000 – 74.91

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "High.'' Case statistics are as of Wednesday.

Case Rate per 100,000 – 117.30

Cases in last 7 days – 10

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,358

Hospitalizations (to date) – 29

Deceased (cumulative) – 7

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.

 

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20 YEARS AGO

September 2002

Photo caption: Bus drivers Derrell John and Sabrina Smith stand next to the new Community Ride buses at Crescent Harbor bus stop, which serves as a transfer point. The two public transportation buses will run two routes, one along Halibut Point Road, the other along Sawmill Creek Road. 

50 YEARS AGO

September 1972

 Photo caption: Bill Willis, the new owner-manager of the Dip’n’ Sip in the Triune Building serves up another ice cream cone for a pleased customer. Bill and his wife Dorothy purchased the business from JoAnne Harris. Along with the ice cream treats, sandwiches and soups will be added to the menu.

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