In a testament to tenacity, conservative candidate Aaron Lojewski is the newest member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough after progressive opponent Leah Berman Williams conceded the close race on Wednesday.
Just five votes divided the two candidates, and Williams declined a recount according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Lojewski notches the first conservative win in a contested assembly or mayoral race since 2012 (when Lance Roberts won a seat, which he won again in an uncontested 2015 race).
The current, unofficial vote tally goes as follows:
- Aaron Lojewski 6,978
- Leah Berman Williams 6,974
- Robert Shields 2,077
- Charles Kesler Woodward 1,700
Races in the Interior have generally gone uncontested in recent years, due in part to low turnout and a progressive organization that’s simply been far better organized on the local level than conservatives. The political division of the assembly has been solidly progressive, which has resulted in the passage of stronger air quality rules to battle the Interior’s terrible wintertime pollution and the establishment of a borough-backed recycling center.
It’s been a problem that conservatives have struggled to solve and, if you look around the state, it’s a problem that isn’t unique to the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Whether it’s been local races, recall elections or pot initiatives conservatives haven’t found a lot of success on the local level.
Lojewski’s win—though about as close as you can get—is notable.
Lojewski was an upstart newcomer to politics in 2012 when he came within 108 votes of upsetting the establishment backed Pete Higgins in the Republican primary for the a west Fairbanks House seat. He went on to win a seat on the Interior Gas Utility—a local government utility that has attempted to usher in natural gas to the area (it’s been slow going)—and challenged Rep. Adam Wool, who beat Higgins in 2014, in the 2016 general election.
Through his political career, Lojewski has eyed races both big and small to make a name in the Interior and approached each race with lessons learned from the past. Though political insiders have not been particularly impressed with his win, noting the other two candidates in the race (Woodward stopped campaigning to endorse Berman, but still drew about 9 percent of the vote), it’s still the first win conservatives have in a long time.