The race for House District 28 is home to political drama-a-plenty.
It all starts with the quagmire of embarrassment that is the Anchorage Legislative Office (LIO). The outgoing incumbent in this race, Rep Mike Hawker, was the architect of that deal, and the growth of public outrage over it almost certainly contributed to Hawker’s decision not to run for another term.
Hawker’s withdrawal from the race leaves competitive primaries for both the Republicans and Democrats populated by two challengers each and no incumbent to claim the mantle of real frontrunner.
It should be a lively race.
House District 28 (HD28) covers the mostly white, upper-middle-class Hillside neighborhoods South of Huffman and East of Hillside Dr, then runs South along the Seward Highway to the liberal forest-dweller areas of Girdwood.
It is quite the contrast in both lifestyles and values.
As you can see in this table, even with the staunchly progressive Girdwood precinct included, this is still a heavily Republican district. Republican voter registration here outperforms the statewide average by 5 points and Democrat registration is just slightly (.7%) lower than the statewide number.
|House District 28||State of Alaska|
|% Registered Republicans||31.4||26.0|
|% Registered Democrats||14.3||15.0|
Here is a breakdown of how HD28 has voted in the last two election cycles:
|Avg. Republican 50.9%|
|Avg. Democrat 45.4%|
Regardless of how the primaries turn out, these numbers say Republicans are likely to win in the general election.
The Republican primary pits 9-year Anchorage Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston against former candidate for U.S. Congress from Florida Ross Bieling.
This race has already gotten a bit ugly. Former Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich has filed a complaint with the Division of Elections claiming Bieling hasn’t lived in Alaska the required three years to run for State Legislature. And rumors are that was just the first of multiple complaints coming against Bieling.
Bieling refers to himself as “self-made entrepreneur.” He moved to Alaska at some point after his unsuccessful run for a Florida congressional seat in 2010. In his first run for office — in Alaska — he is casting himself as the true conservative in the race and telling people he is willing to put $200,000 of his money in it to win it.
Jennifer Johnston is a well-known quantity to South Anchorage voters, having won three terms to the Anchorage Assembly in the last decade. She is known for her fiscally conservative and socially moderate politics. Johnston unsuccessfully ran for State Senate in 2010, losing to current Senator Cathy Giessel in a three-way race.
Both candidates have campaign assets. Bieling appears to have money to put into the contest and Johnston has name recognition and a track record that fits the district.
It isn’t clear at this point how much of a race this will be.
Shirley Cote declared she was running back in October and appears to be running an active campaign. She has a Facebook page and website up and has yard signs out in the district.
Cote is the former Soldotna Chief of Police and head of the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. According to her website her top campaign issues are improving public education and fixing the state’s fiscal problems.
On the state’s fiscal crisis, her website says:
“Cutting costs, increasing revenue, adjusting oil tax incentives, increasing taxes on products, instituting an income tax, and using the permanent fund earnings are all viable options in getting us out of the hole. I am not opposed to examining any one of the options, nor the option of a sales tax”
Cote’s opponent Joan Wilson jumped in at the filing deadline. She has a campaign Facebook page, but it has we weren’t able to find a campaign website or any other sign of activity from her campaign.
Democrats in the know were similarly unaware of any substantial movement from the Wilson camp.
Overall, this district leans heavily to the Republicans. Both candidates, Johnston and Bieling, look to have enough, both in political assets and commitment, to win the race.
Which one of them will make it past the primary? While Bieling will put the time and money into the race, he is still a relative newcomer to Alaska politics. He also appears to have alienated Republican Party insiders and activists, who see him as an overly self-interested self-promoter, who doesn’t work and play well with other Republicans.
They seem to view him temperamentally as the next coming of Gov. Sarah Palin or Rep. Lora Reinbold. That isn’t a good thing.
Johnston, on the other hand, doesn’t fit the mold some more conservative elements might like, but from her time on the Assembly she is viewed as a team-player with whom staunch conservatives can work.
On the Democrat side, it looks like Cote’s race simply because she appears to be the only one working for it, and that matters.
Republican Primary Rating: Lean Johnston
Democrat Primary Rating: Likely Cote
General Election Rating: Lean Republican
***Note: Race ratings appear on a patent-pending scale of: Toss-up, Lean, Likely, Solid.***
To refer to Representative Lora Reinbold as something less that a true statesman is to reveal your bias. She stands out because she is principled in fiscal restraint which is a rare commodity in Juneau.