Filings in Alaska Legislature races set up key races in August primary and November general

Voters cast their ballots in the 2022 primary election in Anchorage on Aug. 16, 2022. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

After Saturday’s deadline to enter, filings in races for the Alaska Legislature are setting up some competitive races in the August primary and November general elections.

First, four lawmakers are heading for the exit: Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage and Rep. Jennie Armstrong, D-Anchorage. None of them filed for another term, with the exception of Ortiz, who announced late last month he planned to withdraw.

Three other Republican House members are looking to jump from the House to the Senate: Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, is challenging Democratic Sen. Matt Claman; conservative Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, is challenging the more moderate Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski; Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, is running in a five-person race for the open Senate seat vacated by Bishop. The latter will be one of just three competitive primary races in August.

As it happens, Cronk’s old seat will also have a competitive primary. A total of six people have filed for that seat representing an enormous swath of the Interior.

The third and final competitive primary race will be for the Senate seat representing Chugiak and Eagle River outside of Anchorage. One Democrat and four Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, are running in that contest for a deep-red seat. 

So what does all this mean for November? 

For one thing, it looks pretty unlikely that the Senate’s 17-member moderate, bipartisan supermajority will splinter. In the House, though, reading the tea leaves is a lot harder. Races in southern Southeast Alaska and the Arctic are up for grabs, and there are a number of close contests in Anchorage.

Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz’s plan to retire as an independent in what is otherwise a pretty red area in southern Southeast could allow Republican Jeremy Bynum to pick up a seat. But the two independents in that race — Grant EchoHawk and Agnes Moran — both have deep roots in the area: EchoHawk is a member of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, and Moran leads the regional domestic violence advocacy group WISH.

The House race in the Arctic could be a pickup opportunity going the other way — two Democrats are challenging Kotzebue Rep. Thomas Ikaaq Baker, who recently switched his registration from Republican to independent. And Baker’s opponents could prove formidable: Saima Ikrik Chase, the mayor of Kotzebue, and Robyn Niayuq Burke, the president of the North Slope Borough’s school board. The district supported Joe Biden for president in 2020 and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection bid in 2022.

A number of House seats in the Anchorage area held by a mix of Democrats and Republicans will also be in play, including seats representing Sand Lake, Taku/Campbell, Northeast Anchorage, the Hillside and the open seat covering Rabbit Creek, the Seward Highway and Whittier that was previously held by Rep. Laddie Shaw. Those are held by a mix of Democrats and Republicans, and recent races for statewide and national office in those districts have been close. But with the House so closely divided — the 23-member majority caucus includes 20 Republicans, plus two rural Democrats and an independent — any number of races could prove decisive.

But we could get some clues later this summer. The primary is scheduled for August 20. The top four candidates in each race advance to the general election on Nov. 5.

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Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at estone@alaskapublic.org.

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