Wielechowski, Kastner fight for votes in East Anchorage

For a decade, Democrat Bill Wielechowski has represented an East Anchorage Senate district where Republicans outnumber Democrats. He attributes part of his success to one of the oldest political activities: knocking on neighbors’ doors, one at a time.

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Susan Williams, left, talks with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who is running for re-election. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO - Juneau)
Susan Williams, left, talks with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who is running for re-election. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau)

This year, Republican Kevin Kastner is trying to beat Wielechowski using his own door-knocking strategy. Spending time with each candidate on Thursday provided a window on how they’re campaigning.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski walked through a quiet neighborhood of small houses. He said he casts a wide net in his search for votes.

“Some people target and only go to … persuadable houses, or houses that are Democratic houses or Republican houses,” he said. “If you vote, I go to your house.”

In the last election, the only precinct Wielechowski lost was Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson – the only area where he’s not allowed to knock on doors.

Wielechowski is a lawyer, first elected to the state senate in 2006. He’s been in the news this year for filing a lawsuit to keep full Permanent Fund dividends. Gov. Bill Walker vetoed half of dividend funding.

Wielechowski said the lawsuit’s going over well with voters.

“A lot of people this time around are really talking to me about the Permanent Fund dividend,” he said. “I think that’s because I have the lawsuit going and that’s a big topic for a lot of people.”

Terry Legg is a retired drywall worker and thinks the lawsuit was a good move.

“I’m glad he did it,” Legg said. “I think there’s a lot of people that really could use that money. And that there’s a lot of other ways to get the money that the state needs besides from taking it from the poor that need it.”

A mile and half away, Wielechowski’s challenger Kevin Kastner was also knocking on doors. He’s the executive director of the Iron Dog race. He said he fixed the race’s finances and now he wants to be a lawmaker so he can do the same thing for the state.

As he walks door-to-door in East Anchorage, Kastner relied on a mobile app that told him which people are more likely to vote Republican.

At a house with a well-groomed lawn, Jay Beverlin spoke with Kastler and pitched his idea for closing the state budget deficit with a tax on marijuana. Economists have said that won’t come close to solving the state’s deficit problem. But Kastner told Beverlin it’s worth exploring. They also talk about the PFD cut. Beverlin has mixed feelings about it.

“I can see what they’re doing for a reason, but … I’d like to see my money too,” Beverlin said. “But I don’t want to see it go away. As long as (Gov. Walker) doesn’t spend it, I don’t have a problem with it. … But now they go to spending it, then I have a problem with it.”

The PFD lawsuit is the biggest issue in the election for many voters. And it’s an issue Kastner and Wielechowski agree on.

Kastner says the lawsuit may help his opponent politically.

“It’s a great maneuver politically,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s a good populist maneuver. But I’m on the same page.”

It’s not going to be easy for Kastner to unseat Wielechowski. The senator won re-election by solid margins two times. Kastner said he knows Wielechowski has a lot of name recognition, but he said he has a realistic chance of winning.

Kastner raised nearly twice as much money as Wielechowski over the two months before Oct. 7. But the senator has much more cash on hand as their campaigns head into the final weeks.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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