Longtime state Senator John Coghill loses Republican primary

A bald man in a black suit with a white tie talks to two other men (with their backs turned) at a desk.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, pictured here in March 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

North Pole state Sen. John Coghill has lost his Republican primary race to Robert Myers, based on unofficial results

Coghill has been in the Legislature since 1999, serving 10 years in the House before joining the Senate.

According to the Alaska Division of Elections all ballots — including absentees — have been counted statewide, except for absentee ballots in two Southwest House districts. 

Coghill is one of seven incumbent Republicans who lost to their challengers. 

Myers said the Republican primary results in his district and statewide reflect anger. 

“I know that this election was not about how much people like me. This election was about how much people hated John Coghill,” Myers said. 

Myers said we’ll find out in November whether voters like him. Independents Evan Eads and Marna Sanford also are running for the seat. 

Coghill has served in a variety of leadership positions, including being the majority leader in both chambers. He currently chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, which determines whether bills are scheduled for floor votes. 

Coghill has voted against drawing down state savings to pay larger Permanent Fund dividends under a formula in a 1982 state law. 

Myers said voters were angry about Coghill’s position on the dividend, as well as the Senate caucus’s requirement that members vote with caucus leadership on budget and procedural votes. This practice, known as a “binding caucus,” is long-standing in the Legislature. Some Republican senators have criticized being required to vote for budgets that include reduced dividends. 

“They effectively refuse to cut the budget,” Myers said of the Legislature. “They’re not talking about any change in revenues, anything like that. They want to just continue the same policies that have been going through for the last 40 years.”

The other incumbents who appear to be headed for defeat include Senate President Cathy Giessel, who lost to challenger Roger Holland in an Anchorage race.

The results remain unofficial until they’re certified, which the state Division of Elections expects to happen by a deadline on Wednesday.

Myers said he supports most of the budget cuts Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed last year, including reducing state school funding by roughly a quarter. But Myers said he opposed Dunleavy’s 2019 proposal to transfer more than $400 million in oil property tax revenue from municipal governments to the state. It was the largest deficit reduction measure Dunleavy proposed. The governor didn’t repeat the proposal this year. 

Lawmakers who’ve voted to lower dividends have said it would threaten the Permanent Fund’s long-term health to draw down fund earnings to pay larger dividends.

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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