The dust has mostly settled in Alaska’s 2022 legislative elections.
Ranked-choice reallocation of votes from general election earlier this month is the final step, and this will be done Nov. 23. However, the outcomes of most state House and Senate races including those in Mat-Su, are apparent.
Not that there was much doubt, but it’s also clear that Mat-Su’s influential delegation of conservatives will retain their clout in the new Legislature.
There will be six members of the state House from the region next year. Three incumbent state senators from the region will be reelected, it is certain.
All of these are Republican on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
When Eagle River’s two new state House members are added, the conservative “caucus” in the House grows to nine. When reelected House members from other parts of the state are added, like Reps. Sarah Vance of Homer; Ben Carpenter of Nikiski; Mike Prax of North Pole and others like Anchorage’s Laddie Shaw, are added the conservative caucus exceeds a third of the state House.
Although it now appears the House will be about evenly split on a political partisan basis, possibly 20 Republicans against 20 Democrats and independent or non-affiliated House members, the internal cohesiveness of Republicans, Wasilla’s David Eastman not included, will make them a powerful force even if another coalition happens in the House, as it did in 2020, to control the leadership positions.
The other key favor is the longevity and experience of Mat-Su Republicans. Legislators like Cathy Tilton, DeLena Johnson, and George Rasucher in the House, and in the Senate, Shelley Hughes and David Wilson, have years of experience in working the complex machinery of government.
That gives the region’a delegation an advantage over freshly elected newcomers who will require months, if not a year, to learn how things work in Juneau.
An exception to this is Dan Saddler of Eagle River, a former legislator who ran again and is elected.
Saddler previously served a term in the House and has also worked in the governor’s office and Department of Natural Resources, so he returns to Juneau knowing where the levers are.
Not all newcomers are inexperienced in government. Mat-Su’s Jesse Sumner, for example, is a member of the Mat-Su Borough assembly, and will bring valuable municipal experience to Juneau.
The same is said for Jamie Allard, to be a new House member from Mat-Su, who is currently on the Anchorage municipal assembly and also has state administration experience. Allard’s influence may be felt more as a vocal conservative voice than in the technical details of legislation.
There are other former municipal elected officials, legislative staff and state agency workers coming in the freshman class reflecting both political parties.
All that said, there were some spirited races and close contests in some of the Mat-Su races. One was in incumbent Sen. Mike Shower’s Senate District O. Based on the August primary election result and early counts in the November general election it appeared Shower might be defeated by his opponent, Doug Massie.
Shower gained strength as the vote count proceeded, however, and now appears to be the winner.
Incumbent Sen. David Wilson, a Republican, faced a complicated challenge from two other Republicans in his bid for reelection in Senate District N but now appears to have a comfortable margin over both.
The ranked choice redistribution of votes are yet to be included but it is felt Wilson will prevail.
It was also nip-and-tuck for a while between Sumner and Steve Menard, his Republican opponent, in Wasilla’s House District 28, but Sumner gained an edge as counting proceeded and appears to be the winner now, with absentee ballots counted.
Incumbents generally fared well across the state but there were surprises, too. In Nome, in District 39 on the Seward Peninsula, veteran Democratic legislator Neal Foster is still neck-and-neck with an Alaska Independence Party opponent, Tyler Ivanoff. Foster was only 10 votes ahead of Ivanoff in the latest count.
Foster is cochair of the House Finance Committee in the current Legislature. He and his father, Richard Foster, now deceased, have been fixtures in the Legislature for years.
Another surprise was in Fairbanks, where Democratic incumbent Grier Hopkins, has apparently lost is west Fairbanks House District 34 seat to the Republican challenger, Frank Tomaszewski. Hopkins is known for his ability to work across partisan divides and in knitting consensus on key bills.
Like Foster, Hopkins also comes from a distinguished local political family. His father, Luke Hopkins, served in the House and is a former Fairbanks Borough Mayor.
Another big change for the state House, although it doesn’t change the partisan lineup, is the apparent loss by incumbent Anchorage Rep. Harriet Drummond, a Democrat, to another incumbent Democrat, Zack Fields.
Anchorage House District xx, where the two faced each other, was reconfigured in the recent legislative redistricting.
Most of the new district had been represented by Fields and a lesser portion of it by Drummond, so Fields was better known in much of the combined district enough to overcome Drummond despite her years in the House and Anchorage school board.
Interestingly, Mat-Su legislators interested in agriculture, among them Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-MatSu, bemoan the loss of Rep. Geran Tarr in the Legislature after Tarr, a Democrat, trailed opponents in her bid to move up to the Senate from a House seat.
Tarr is an unabashed progressive liberal but she also helped champion food security and agriculture bills within the House Majority, which is largely led by Democrats, Hughes said.