Five big things to watch for in Alaska politics in 2018

With big state and local races up for grabs 2018, we’ll get to find out just how much voters are paying attention to the twists and travails set into motion in 2017. Will Democrats see continued success riding the wave of anti-Trumpism, what else will the Republican Congress set its sights on in 2018 and how will all of this affect Alaska?

Today, we’re looking at some of the biggest stories we’re looking forward to in 2018.

What will Trump mean for Alaska’s 2018 elections?

The special elections of 2017—capped with the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Roy Moore for the long-Republican Alabama senate seat—are a preview of what’s to come for the 2018 elections, but will the Lower 48 swings favoring Democrats materialize in Alaska? It’ll depend. Can Democrats get—and keep—their act together to capitalize on national politics while effectively connecting and motivating voters to the polls? And what will Republicans do with Trump’s rock-bottom popularity?

Liberal Democrats will be the first to remind you that self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ margin of victory in Alaska’s caucuses was only second to his home state. The Sanders supporters are still fired up and stand to be a critical part of 2018 if they’re welcomed in as part of the party. The Democrats still in many ways recovering from the loss in 2016, and there’s still plenty of bad blood to go around.

Meanwhile, Republicans will be a tough situation moving ahead. Embrace Trump-ism and you could lose the moderates in the general as we’ve seen in the Lower 48, but distance or ignore Trump and your primary could get a whole lot more difficult. There are groups out there actively recruiting far-right candidates to take on moderate Republican legislators and they’re not likely to play nice, either. Recall when the Alaska Republican Party seemed to bend over backwards to keep its delegates from going to Trump in 2016. Call it holding true to the will of the voters, but Trump-aligned groups aren’t likely to forget.

And that’s not to mention the actual politics of Trump when it comes to taxes and health care that will be a tough—but not impossible—sell to Alaska voters in 2018.

What will the election year mean for the budget?

We closed out 2017 as yet another year without a fiscal plan to address the state’s (admittedly somewhat improving) financial situation. Disagreements and a refusal to compromise have sidelined the restructuring the permanent fund, the one thing that a majority of legislators agree should be part of the solution (both chambers passed a bill). Now it’s an election year.

With pro-PFD Republican candidates out there and Gov. Bill Walker vulnerable with his PFD vetoes (not to mention the possible entrance of Mark Begich into the race), we’re expecting a lot of jockeying in Juneau in preparation for the battle over the Legislature and governor’s mansion. That means we won’t be surprised if the Legislature disappoints in 2018 once again. Maybe the fundraising rules will give legislators a sense of urgency with their work.

Walker’s already planning to play tough politics when it comes to the budget. At the very least his bill to cut off legislative pay and per diem if legislators can’t pass a budget on time (which funnily enough is also likely to appear on the 2018 election in an initiative) will make things interesting.

What will the tough-on-crime movement mean for elections?

With Southcentral residents beleaguered by crime and legislators beleaguered by inaction on the budget, the fall special session was a perfect diversion into the tried-and-true politics of being—or at least appearing to be—tough-on-crime. While the budget, the permanent fund and good ol’ partisanship will be central themes in the 2018 elections, crime stands to be a wildcard of sorts. It’ll be a central issue to the Anchorage mayoral election between Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Republican-favored challenger Rebecca Logan.

The complicated voting records of many sitting legislators and gubernatorial hopefuls means no one party will be able to own the tough-on-crime mantle, and those votes could come to haunt some legislators. Plenty of legislators who voted for Senate Bill 91 have already said they regret the decision, but we can’t imagine that will be a particularly convincing argument with issue-based voters who could simply opt for the shiny new voting-record-less challenger (remember that slate of far-right candidates mentioned above?).

Either way, it’s an issue that candidates won’t be able to escape as long as crime-driven candidates like Edie Grunwald are in the race.

Who’s next?

Women and men have long faced sexual harassment while working for the Alaska Legislature, and as we saw in 2017 it only takes one brave person to break through the silence. Former Rep. Dean Westlake wasn’t an isolated case, and won’t be the last legislator to face consequences for his behavior towards women.

Though we were disappointed to see such a serious issue so quickly devolve into politics, it’ll almost certainly play a role in the 2018 elections. There are serious questions to be asking about the Legislature’s handling of sexual harassment allegations both in the House and the Senate, but more importantly voters and donors should and will be taking a hard look at the past and present behavior of the people running for office.

What’s in store for ANWR and resource development?

Pebble Mine is gearing up for activity, Alaska has unlocked the door for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska is working together with China on building a natural gas pipeline off the North Slope. With the election of President Trump, Alaska’s set its sights on a boom in resource development in all forms. While none of the above projects are likely to put shovel to dirt in 2018, we’re expecting to see big developments in all of the above this year.

The China deal has a tight deadline later this year, will the big investment dollars materialize for ANWR and what sort of legal challenges are in store for Pebble Mine?

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