Redistricting has pitted two Anchorage Democrats against each other for a House seat, creating a contest between incumbents who share political views, many endorsements and even East Coast upbringings.
The race between Rep. Harriet Drummond, who has represented parts of Midtown and West Anchorage since 2013, and Rep. Zack Fields, who has represented a more downtown district since 2019, is headed for a tight finish, if results from the primary are any indication. In that Aug. 16 election, Fields wound up with 51.2% of the vote to Drummond’s 48.8%, a margin of just 91 votes.
For residents of the district, deciding between the two in the general election will come down to a comparison of governing style and experience, interviews with the candidates suggest.
Drummond, who grew up in New York City, cites as a key attribute her long experience in local government prior to her first election to the Legislature. She served three terms on the Anchorage School Board and two on the Anchorage Assembly before entering the Legislature, where she’s been elected to five two-year terms.
“Schools for me are essential services and have been my primary focus,” she said, pointing out her position co-chairing the House Education Committee. And from her school board days, when she worked with school officials from outside of Anchorage, she came to understand and appreciate a statewide perspective, she said.
“Folks that are in the Legislature as their first elected position so often don’t look beyond the borders of their district as to how their decisions are impacting people,” she said.
The Legislature, for example, makes important decisions for the vast stretches of rural Alaska that lie outside of organized boroughs that would otherwise be determined by more local or regional government bodies, she said. “We have to make decisions for those communities even though they’re not in our particular districts,” she said.
Additionally, Drummond says, she has experience running a business, a graphic design company in her case. “I know what it’s like to make a payroll,” she said.
Fields, who grew up in Charlottesville, Va., is one of those people for whom the House seat is his first in elected office.
He argues that his edge in the race is his record of pragmatism, being proactive to build coalitions and accomplishing results during his two terms in office.
“As a representative, I have an obligation to be effective and deliver real change that has a tangible impact on people’s lives. So how much I value in the abstract schools or helping seniors or public safety, it doesn’t really matter if I can’t deliver that change. And I have been extremely effective at delivering for the Pioneer homes, at delivering for our schools, at delivering on public safety,” he said.
He said he has “an obligation to vote strategically” and deliver the most positive impacts for the people in the district.
“I’m not interested in a debate about political purity because people’s lives are at stake, their livelihoods are at stake. We have to be focused on how our policies actually impact real people,” he said.
Fields said he was instrumental in piecing together the current House majority, which has Democrats, Republicans and independents, and that is a prime motivation for running again this year. Drummond also touts her role in helping create a multipartisan House majority starting in 2016.
Neither is pleased with how district lines were drawn to force an election between the two.
Fields sees the forced standoff as deliberate. “The Republicans on the redistricting board intentionally redistricted us. We were targeted by a gerrymander. And I think voters are aware of that,” he said.
Drummond declined to go that far, but she is critical of the way the new district is cobbled together with pieces pulled out of separate and intact neighborhoods. The redistricting board “did a terrible job of keeping neighborhoods together,” she said. “The redistricting people clearly didn’t walk any neighborhood streets to consider how neighborhoods are put together.”
The new district ranges from the west, with three blocks of Spenard, a part of town with a distinctly eclectic character, to the east, where it includes half of Eastridge, a condominium neighborhood long associated with the Airport Heights Community Council, Drummond pointed out.
Fields said the new lines keep about three-quarters of his old district intact. Because much of the district is largely new to Drummond, she said her strong showing in the August primary is promising for her chances to prevail in November.
Both candidates have many shared endorsements, from labor unions and Planned Parenthood, for example. There is crossover support shown in the financial disclosure forms that list contributions.
There are some subtle differences in their groups of supporters, however. The Alaska Center, an environmental organization, is urging followers to rank Drummond first and Fields second, for example, and former Gov. Tony Knowles, Alaska’s last Democratic governor, has signed on as a top supporter of Fields.
There are also differences in the candidates’ takes on statewide races.
Drummond supports a straight Democratic ticket, backing former state Rep. Les Gara for governor and retired educator Pat Chesbro for the U.S. Senate. At a recent fundraiser in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Drummond was a featured speaker for Chesbro and posed for photos with the Senate candidate and other women running for election or re-election.
Gara and Chesbro “are Democrats and represent my values best,” Drummond said, though she added that she is planning on marking her ballot for independent former Gov. Bill Walker and incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski as second choices under the state’s new ranked choice voting system. Current Gov. Mike Dunleavy, she said, “has been a disaster for schools in particular and Alaska in general.”
Fields has signs in his yard for both Gara and Walker. He will support both, he said, but as of mid-September he had not decided which candidate to rank first. Gara was his predecessor.
Early on in the election season, before Chesbro entered the race, Fields endorsed incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a rare moderate Republican who supported impeachment of former President Donald Trump. Murkowski is running against former state Commissioner of Administration Kelly Tshibaka, a Trump-endorsed candidate who questions the legitimacy of President Biden’s election.
Fields said the issues at stake in the Murkowski-Tshibaka race are important enough to justify crossing party lines.
“I think at the federal level, our democracy is very much in danger. And I made a calculation as a voter that Lisa Murkowski was the best person who could win,” he said. “When our democracy was directly threatened by insurrectionists, she voted to uphold the results of an election and uphold our democratic system of government. We face an existential threat from these people who want to undo our democratic system of government.”
Drummond holds a similar view of Tshibaka, calling her “simply terrifying.”
Despite the many similarities between Drummond and Fields, there has been a flare-up of tension in the race.
An independent expenditure group called Friends of House District 17 Opposing Zack Fields was formed over the summer, prior to the primary election. It drew an Alaska Public Offices Commission complaint that pointed out that the person providing $5,000 of the $6,750 raised was Drummond’s husband and that the treasurer of her campaign was also listed as treasurer of the independent expenditure group. Since group organizers acknowledged their errors and declared an intention to dissolve Friends of House District 17 Opposing Zack Fields, APOC on Sept. 20 opted against taking expedited action.
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