The 2017 Anchorage election isn’t entirely in the books. There’are a School Board race and several ballot propositions still in doubt, but for the most part, we now know how things turned out.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts on last night’s winners and losers.
Winner — Mayor Ethan Berkowitz — Conservative candidates in every Assembly race ran on the platform of “I’ll be a check on the horrible policies coming out of the Mayor’s office.” That message failed and failed badly as it appears voters, even in conservative South Anchorage, voted to stand by Mayor Berkowitz’s agenda.
Berkowitz now enjoys a 9-2 majority of like-minded progressive allies on the Assembly.
Winner — Alaska Democrats — The Dems won a surprise upset in the South Anchorage race between Albert Fogle and Suzanne LaFrance, and that’s great for them, but more important is how they may have won it. Votes are still being counted so it’s a bit premature to draw any major conclusions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate, but I will anyway.
The race that LaFrance and the Dems won in conservative South Anchorage currently shows a 25.4% voter turnout. That is 4-10 points higher than the races in all of the other Assembly districts. What that could show is that LaFrance won because there was a swell of left-leaning voters who came to the polls Tuesday.
If that’s true, and that lefty voter enthusiasm in South Anchorage can be sustained, Alaska Democrats would have to feel pretty good about the prospects of holding on to Rep. Jason Grenn’s and Rep. Chris Tuck’s seats next fall, and even picking up Rep. Charisse Millett’s seat from the GOP.
Loser — Alaska Republicans — It’s another horrible local election showing for the AKGOP. Not only did they lose in the three once-winnable Assembly districts in West Anchorage, East Anchorage, and Midtown — all by more than 10 points — but their candidate in the once-dependable conservative territory of South Anchorage got smoked too.
You don’t think it was that bad for AKGOP? Ask yourself this, when was the last time South Anchorage was represented by two Assemblymembers who were both labor-supported and the most progressive candidates in their races?
I continue to say it: Republicans in Alaska simply don’t know how to win a race when they aren’t bailed out by the nationally branded “R” next to their name on the ballot. In local races, party affiliation isn’t listed. That used to make it tough for Republicans to win swing districts in local elections, but now they are losing regularly in solidly conservative areas across the state.
Time for an AKGOP post-mortem?
Winner — Ship Creek Group — When this lefty-leaning political consulting firm lost its leader John-Henry Heckendorn to Governor Bill Walker’s staff earlier this year, there were real questions whether the campaign management magic went with him. I think it’s safe to say Heckendorn’s replacement, Rafi Bildner, did pretty darn well, helping progressive Midtown candidate Felix Rivera to a comfortable win and sitting on the verge of sealing a victory for School Board candidate Andy Holleman..
It looks like Ship Creek Group hasn’t lost a step.
Winner — Hunter Dunn and Leighan Gonzales — Tip of the cap to Suzanne LaFrance’s campaign management crew. I don’t know exactly what they did or how they did it, but whatever it was, it worked.
Loser — Fire Island Strategies — The campaign management firm started by former Democratic State Senate candidate Forrest McDonald and his partner Peter Finn is rapidly getting a reputation as the worst in the business.
Last fall McDonald not only lost his own State Senate race, but he and Finn ran Pat Higgins’ bid to unseat Rep. Charisse Millett. The two effectively torpedoed Higgins’ chances with a last-minute mailer I called “offensive” at the time.
The two were at it again this spring, running Albert Fogle’s campaign that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and were reportedly the “brains” behind the David Dunsmore attack mailer on Chris Constant that effectively cost Dunsmore all of his remaining support from the Democrat establishment.
Even the one race the Fire Island crew won last night didn’t seem to be cause for celebration. Every Democrat I talked to at Election Central last night offered vocal complaints about how poorly they ran Pete Petersen’s campaign, even to the point of offering a few conspiracy theories that the two really wanted Petersen to lose.
It will be interesting to see if Finn and McDonald get anyone to take their “help” in 2018.
Winner — SB 91 — The crime reform bill the Alaska Legislature passed last year was the target of conservative candidates throughout the Anchorage Bowl. Crime is clearly a problem in Anchorage and those candidates were right to pick up on it and make that an issue. Their problem was how to message it.
First, conservatives couldn’t go with the tried and true Republican position of saying we need more cops on the streets to fight crime, because progressive Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has already done that. Second, state and local fiscal crises made calling for increases in government spending tricky for righties.
What Republicans came up with is a tortured argument that while crime has spiked in Anchorage, we don’t need a stronger police force, but rather more prosecutions of crimes cops have already solved. That, they said, has been made impossible by the reforms included in SB 91.
Did they have a fair point? In some cases yes, but mostly no. That isn’t the point, however. The defeat of conservative candidates in West Anchorage, East Anchorage, and Midtown by over 10 points each, along with the shocking conservative loss in South Anchorage, shows voters didn’t buy the argument.
Loser — Big Cab — If Proposition 8 had passed and Big Cab showed it could simply overturn any attempts by the Anchorage Assembly to change taxi regulations by putting a referendum on the ballot and spending lots of money get it passed, it could have dampened the Assembly’s appetite for fighting Big Cab to allow companies like Uber and Lyft into the Anchorage market.
With the proposition’s overwhelming defeat — right now it is losing 59-41 — the road is cleared for future taxi regulation and opening Anchorage to innovative transportation competitors.
Winner — Former Mayors Tom Fink, Rick Mystrom, George Wuerch, and Dan Sullivan — They organized and launched radio ads against the bond package in Proposition 2. The former mayors said it inappropriately placed ongoing Muni operating costs in a capital improvement bond.
Voters agreed with them, sending the proposition to defeat by 8 points.
Winner — LGBT Folks — It has been pointed out to me that I overlooked the fact two openly gay candidates won Tuesday night. There is no doubt about it, that is historic.
In my mind, however, that win is tempered a bit by what I heard from Republicans last night. There is at least some thought within GOP circles that the openly gay Albert Fogle lost because party faithful withheld their support for his campaign because they felt he wasn’t open and forthright about his sexual orientation while being recruited as a candidate.
That there is a standard in some folks minds that a candidate should be expected to pro-actively out himself in order to receive full right-wing support is itself troubling. It makes the LGBT cause at least a little bit of a loser last night.
So, the LGBT cause is 5% loser, 95% winner.