Nearly all of the seats in the Alaska Legislature are up for reelection this year, so the makeup of the state House and Senate could look a lot different next session.
Heading toward Election Day on Tuesday, with early and absentee voting already under way, one of the biggest questions is whether there will again be a coalition majority in control of the state House.
Well, as Alaska Beacon reporter James Brooks says, we won’t know for a while, there’s a great deal of uncertainty, and there’s been a lot more attention on races farther up the ballot, like for U.S. Senate and House and for governor.
But Brooks says the makeup — and the lawmaking — in the state House has, arguably, a bigger impact on Alaskans’ day-to-day lives.
James Brooks: Since 2020, the House has been controlled by a coalition that includes 16 Democrats, two Republicans and three independents. What’s important this year is that a lot of those Democrats aren’t returning to the Legislature, and so the result is a lot of turnover. We’re gonna see a lot of new faces in the Legislature, and especially in the House, regardless of the elections.
Casey Grove: So what are the most interesting races that you’re following for House seats this year?
JB: There’s five races that I’m keeping my eye on. Most of them are in Anchorage, where the city is pretty closely divided between Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning voters. In north Anchorage — so Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Government Hill — I’m keeping an eye on the race that includes Democrats Lyn Franks and Cliff Groh versus Republican incumbent David Nelson. That district always has really low turnout, and redistricting made it a bit more Democratic. So Groh or Franks, depending on the results of ranked choice voting, have a shot at beating Nelson.
In East Anchorage, the race between Donna Mears as the Democratic candidate and Forrest Wolfe, the Republican candidate, is shaping up to be fairly close. In Midtown Anchorage, Democrat Andy Josephson and Republican Kathy Henslee. Another Anchorage race, Ted Eischeid as the Democrat versus Stanley Wright as the Republican. All of those seem to be coming down to the wire in terms of who wins. And then in Fairbanks, the only one that’s outside of Anchorage that seems to be a toss-up at this point, is Republican incumbent Bart LeBon who’s going up against Democrat Maxine Dibert and a farther right Republican, Kelly Nash.
CG: So why are those five the ones to watch?
JB: In all five of those, you have candidates who finished fairly close together in the primary. And while we know there should be a lot more voters next week than there were in August, the demographics of those districts are close enough together that anyone can win. In a lot of districts across the state, there’s a preponderance of Republican-leaning voters or Democratic-leaning voters. In these five districts, the margins are tight enough that either candidate or any candidate could win. And I think those five races are going to go a long way to determine whether the coalition survives in the House or whether we go to a Republican-led majority. It’s possible that that majority will pick up an independent or two. Josiah Patkotak from the North Slope may join a Republican-led majority, if Republicans keep that majority, but that remains to be seen.
CG: Right, there’s like different ways that this puzzle could fit together. But remind us what this House majority has been like in the past. It seems like it has not been the, you know, rubber-stamp state House that would have maybe agreed with a Republican governor.
JB: Right. And you called this a puzzle, and I think that’s a good way to think about it. Although before Election Day, we don’t even know what pieces we have, because we don’t know who’s going to win. So when you talk about, well, what form could the House take? We need to first figure out what pieces we have before we can figure out how they fit together, in terms of creating a majority or minority. Because over in the Senate, we’ve seen Republicans hold a majority, but Republicans there have been so divided, that’s effectively been run as a coalition. They can’t pass a budget without Democratic votes.
But to answer your question about what sorts of policies, what sorts of differences we could see, over the past four years that Gov. (Mike) Dunleavy has been governor, we’ve seen the coalition-controlled House being the biggest brake on the agenda he wants to pursue. We’ve seen them oppose his budget cuts, oppose his Permanent Fund Dividend plan, oppose a lot of the social issues that he’s pursued. And so if control switches from the coalition to the Republicans, you’re gonna see, more than likely, a lot more of Dunleavy’s proposals, assuming he’s reelected, become law or are allowed to advance.
Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.
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