State of the Race: Legislative Races, Day 2 (House Districts 11-20)

Slapped-together illustration by Matt Buxton.

Welcome to the second day of our rundown of all 50 legislative races. Today, we’ll be exploring House Districts 11 through 20, which covers the remainder of the Mat-Su Valley, Palmer, Eagle River and the northeast and downtown areas of Anchorage.

Except for maybe one or two races, today’s set of political battles will largely be decided in the primaries, including what’s shaping up to be one of the most contentious primaries in recent memory for the Alaska Democratic Party.

Yesterday we covered House Districts 1 through 10 (the Interior and the rest of Mat-Su).

Mat-Su Valley and Eagle River

Rough illustration by Matt Buxton.

 

House District 11: Mayor vs. Mayor

Incumbent Rep. DeLena Johnson, a former mayor of Palmer, will be facing current Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries in the Republican Primary for the Palmer House district. DeVries served in the Alaska Senate in 1985 and 1986, and more recently made headlines as an on-the-fence backer of a city-wide ban on plastic bags. Both candidates have been closely involved the local community, which make the race one to watch.

The winner of the race will go up against Democrat Eileen Patterson. Though Palmer is often considered to be relatively more moderate than the rest of the Mat-Su Valley, it’s still a very Republican-heavy district so it’s not likely to change hands.

Hot take: Solid Republican

House District 12: High-flying challenger

Incumbent Rep. Cathy Tilton, a Republican, has drawn one of the more unique general election challengers in Stephany Jeffers, who is an aerial acrobatics instructor and owner of Cirque Boreal, who’s running as an undeclared candidate in the Alaska Democratic Party’s primary. Jeffers is a former Miss Alaska, making her one of two Miss Alaska winners running for election this year.

Still, it’s another one of those solidly Republican Mat-Su Valley seats.

Hot take: Solid Republican

House District 13: An open seat

House District 13 is one of two seats that were opened up after its incumbent (Rep. Dan Saddler) departed to run for the vacated Senate seat of Sen. Anna MacKinnon. The open House seat, which covers North Eagle River and Fort Richardson, has a contested Republican primary featuring Craig Christenson, Bill Cook and Nancy Dahlstrom. Dahlstrom is a former member of the House who resigned her position in 2010 to take a job with the Parnell administration.

The winner of the race will go on to face nonpartisan candidate Danyelle Kimp, an Army veteran who now owns a brewery, who is running in the Alaska Democratic Party’s primary.

Hot take: Safe Republican

House District 14: Another open seat

Incumbent Rep. Lora Reinbold is also seeking the open Senate seat of Sen. Anna MacKinnon, making way for another crowded Republican primary. In the Republican primary, there’s Eugene Harnett, Jamie Allard and Kelly Merrick. Merrick has the most political experience of the bunch as a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young and her husband is Joey Merrick, the business manager for Laborers’ Local 351. Allard, a U.S. Army veteran, appears to have the endorsement of Reinbold because they went to the Division of Elections office together to file.

The winner will go up against Joe Hackenmueller, a nonpartisan candidate who’s filed to run in the Alaska Democratic Party’s primary. Hackenmueller went up against Reinbold in 2016 as a nonpartisan candidate losing by a 19-point margin.

Hot take: The primary race will likely come down to a battle between Merrick and Allard, with the result being likely safe Republican

Anchorage

Rough illustration by Matt Buxton.

House District 15: A GOP target

Incumbent Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux is in the crosshairs of the Alaska Republican Party along with two other Republicans for joining the Democrat-led Alaska House Majority Coalition. The party at least was able to put its support behind a single Republican challenger for LeDoux in former KTUU news photographer Aaron Weaver.

Weaver has the party line down already, telling KTVA that LeDoux’s decision to join the coalition (and win the juicy House Rules Committee chair) was “unconscionable.”

LeDoux’s one of those unusual Republicans that’s become closely allied with labor, and has been one of the most active voices in any legislative majority to push for a fully funded PFD. Though she’s riled Republicans and irked plenty of legislative colleagues as Rules Committee Chair, we don’t believe LeDoux has any obvious vulnerability in the Muldoon/JBER district. The partisan argument isn’t likely to override her ardent defense of the PFD.

There’s also a three-way Alaska Democratic Party primary between nonpartisan candidate between Lyn Franks, Patrick McCormack and undeclared candidate Rick Phillips. From what we’ve heard is these candidates filed on their own.

Hot take: LeDoux’s likely to hold onto the seat, therefore the seat leans Republican (especially with the Democratic candidates). If LeDoux loses, we wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats put up a more stout general election opponent, which could move it to the toss-up category.

House District 16: The start of a blue streak

The rest of these seats are about as safely Democratic as the Mat-Su seats are Republican, though recent elections have put the races within about 10 percentage points instead of whopping 20-point victories so given the right conditions these races could be more competitive.

Incumbent Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, a Democrat, is seaking her second elected term in office to represent the College Gate district with a campaign and fundraising already underway. She’s set to face Republican Stanley Wright in the general election.

Spohnholz won her first elected term in 2016 by a 10-point margin over the Republican challenger in a three-way race that also featured a independent candidate.

Hot take: Safe Democrat

House District 17: Public safety

After cruising to re-election uncontested in 2016, incumbent Rep. Andy Josephson is set to face Republican challenger Marcus Sanders in the general election. Sanders is a pastor and school security employee at an Anchorage middle school. He ran for Anchorage Assembly in 2017, coming in third to Felix Rivera. Sanders is one of the more established candidates running in this streak of blue districts, but will still likely find an uphill climb.

Sanders has pitched public safety as a key political position in his campaign so far, but it’s not likely to be as effective of a position against Josephson, a former assistant district attorney who’s been one of the most vocal Democratic critics of criminal justice reform.

Hot take: Safe Democrat

House District 18: A record

Incumbent Rep. Harriet Drummond will be seeking her fourth term in the Alaska House, and will be facing Republican candidate Anthony Lekanof. Drummond won her 2016 race by nearly 12-percentage points. Party registration also favors Democrats by three points.

Lekanof admitted that he was busted for operating under the influence in February of this year, which has yet to be resolved in the courts. That appears to not be his only driving-related run-in with the cops, though, and he’s since been hit with minor offenses for running a red light, driving without proof of insurance and without licensing his vehicle. The online court documents indicate that Lekanof failed to respond to the citation, which have since been sent to collections in total of about $980.

Hot take: Solid Democrat

House District 19: A Libertarian streak

In Anchorage’s liberal districts it’s easy to write-off most non-Democrats as not having a chance come the general election, and that’s still likely the case for House District 19, but the entrance of Libertarian candidate Cean Stevens should at least be interesting. That’s because last year Stevens penned a blistering tell-all about the inner workings of the Libertarian party detailing shocking harassment by her campaign manager and the calculated replacement the party took to remove and replace her from the party’s ticket for U.S. Senate with Republican Joe Miller.

Her decision to come forward with an experience that painted the party in such a damaging light is commendable, and it sounds like she was just one of many who saw the appointment of Miller as a disingenuous move.

Despite it all, Stevens is throwing herself back into politics with a race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Geran Tarr. The district numbers are in Tarr’s favor, who beat Stevens by a 27-point margin in 2014 and a 21-point margin in 2012.

Fred Chaffee has filed a nominating petition to run as a nonpartisan candidate in the general election.

Hot take: Solid Democrat.

House District 20: A true blue primary

The Government Hill, Downtown and Fairview district is home to the Alaska Democratic Party’s most competitive primary. As it stands, incumbent Rep. Les Gara is currently filed to run for re-election, but he’s been openly entertaining the idea of retirement has made his retirement official. That’s invited three other Democratic hopefuls to run for the seat.

They include: former Alaska Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields (who has Gara’s endorsement); businessman Elias Rojas, who’s the board president of the LGBTQ rights advocacy group Alaskans Together for Equality; and the attorney who organizes Alaska Common Ground Cliff Groh.

Rojas and Fields seemed to split the big-ticket endorsements with their initial candidacy announcements, setting up an interesting party split that had Tom and Mark Begich on opposite sides. (Tom endorsed Rojas, and Mark endorsed Fields).

The entry of Groh came on the final day of filing. He’s largely been notable for running the Alaska Common Ground forums that has sought to foster a political middle ground and citizen engagement.

If Gara does, in fact, plan to stay in the race, we’re not really sure how any of this would play out, but we expect that not every Democratic candidate would vacate the race. We expect Gara will withdraw before the primary deadline (he did so today), leaving a three-way to the Democrats. He’s already endorsed Fields as, in his eyes, an acceptable candidate to fill the seat, we’ll see if Rojas and Groh get similar consideration.

The winner of the primary is almost assured to win the general election thanks to the district’s left-leaning politics and party registration. That race would pit the winner against Republican Ceezar X. Martinson and Libertarian Warren P. West.

Hot take: Momentum would seem to favor either Fields or Rojas, but Groh could be a formidable challenger. Either way, this seat is solid Democrat.

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