State of the Race: Twas the night before the filing deadline

The new map as approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board on an interim basis for the 2022 elections.

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We’re less than 24 hours away from the deadline to file for the 59 legislative seats up for election this year. With nearly a third of legislators set to be sent packing thanks to redistricting or simply having seen enough of the legislative session and redistricting itself, it stands to be a big year for shakeups on in the Legislature. In today’s look at the state of the race, I’ll be breaking down some of the big stories and things to watch as this year’s legislative slate gets dialed in.

You can find all the official filings here (folks can also file letters of intent with APOC to start fundraising, but it’s not officially official until it hits the Division of Elections). The list gets updated as elections workers receive and review filings. The deadline closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

As it currently stands, there are five seats that currently have no challengers: Anchorage’s House Districts 16 and 21, Bethel’s House District 38, North Slope’s House District 40 and Fairbanks’ Senate District P.

The Anchorage Rumble

Thanks to the efforts of the Girdwood plaintiffs, we won’t be getting two Eagle River senators… at least in this election. Whether the Alaska Supreme Court opens the door to give the Alaska Redistricting Board a third chance at gerrymandering the maps is yet to be seen, but the interim maps stand to have a big political impact.

The big headline is that there’s now a vacant, deep-blue Senate district in Senate District J. The seat covers the Mountain View and the U-Med districts of Anchorage and would have “Sen. Ivy Spohnholz” written all over it if the Democrat hadn’t already announced she’s stepping away from the Legislature. As it stands, Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar and Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr have both filed to run for the seat, teeing up what stands to be one of the more heated intraparty battles this year. There’s a fair bit of bad blood circulating around Tarr’s time in the Legislature that seems complicated and worsened by the difficulty of trying to make things work with a 21-member majority. It seems like there’s a big internal fracture among some Democrats over the narrow passage of the Alaska Reads Act in the final hours of session that effectively circumvented the process and concerns raised by a majority of House Democrats. There was a lot of chatter about the handful of majority members who broke from the group on this issue and Tarr is among them. Whether that translates to anything in this race has yet to be seen but that’s what I’m hearing. After coming up short in his 2021 mayoral bid, there seemed to be some concern that Dunbar and other progressives might very well be in trouble heading into this spring’s municipal elections. Dunbar ended up winning by 13.3 points. Again, however, how any of this translates to this race has yet to be seen. It’ll be an interesting race that will likely be decided at general election day thanks to Ballot Measure 2. Impact: Bruises aside, Democrats are set to pick up a seat here.

There’s also another Democrat v. Democrat race in the making with incumbent Reps. Andy Josephson and Chris Tuck finding themselves sharing House District 13 thanks to redistricting. Tuck had been eyeing a run for the Senate but that was before Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson pulled the plug on her U.S. Senate campaign and filed for reelection, leaving Tuck without a clear landing spot. Tuck officially joined Josephson in the race for House District 13. Like with Tarr, Tuck also broke with most of the House Democrats to support the Alaska Reads Act. Impact: More bruises.

Out on the west end of Anchorage, you’ve got a Senate District H that is on the blue side of purple and currently represented by very conservative Republican Sen. Mia Costello. There’s a lot of talk that Democratic Rep. Matt Claman could step up and challenge Costello with a good shot at flipping the seat. Also, labor is fuming at the demise of House Bill 55—which would return a defined benefit retirement system for police and firefighters (a first step toward creating such a retirement system for all public employees)—with a lot of ire directed toward Costello. That could translate to a big boost for Claman in what’s likely to be an expensive race. Impact: It’s going to be a magnet for resources but it’s also Democrats’ best chance of flipping a Senate seat.

Fairbanks slides to the right

While things are looking good for Democrats in Anchorage, they’re not nearly as rosy up in the Golden Heart City. While several of the Anchorage seats shifted just far enough to the left to make them competitive, Fairbanks Rep. Grier Hopkins saw his district—House District 34—veer so far to the right that it’s going to take some kind of miracle for him to pull off a victory. The same story goes for the city of Fairbanks Senate district—Senate District P—currently held by Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki. The Alaska Redistricting Board continued the trend of moving the Senate district farther to the East, incorporating a greater and greater part of the deep-red Badger Road area into the district. Redistricting sent Fairbanks Sen. Joe Paskvan packing in 2012 with a similar injection of Badger Road voters (and who could forget the “Kawasaki Finger,” a brazen attempt to put draw just Kawasaki’s house into a Republican district that failed for many reasons, chief among them being it was not Kawasaki’s house but his sister’s). Kawasaki has long been a thorn in the side of Republicans but has overcome well-funded challenger after well-funded challenger. Impact: Republican candidate Frank Tomaszewski has a good shot at flipping Hopkins’ seat just by the district’s underlying numbers. The Senate district is also advantage Republican with not-so-likable Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly as the likely challenger, but Kawasaki already proved to be resilient (interestingly, though, Senate P is one of just five seats with zero candidates filed).

Later, Lora!

There’s a lot of folks who’ve already announced their departures from the Legislature and several more who will be sent home by the outcome of this round of Alaska Redistricting, but headlining the retirements is extreme-right Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold. She announced that she’s calling it quits in a 22-minute video posted to Facebook last week that amounts to a greatest hits of her time in the Legislature. That ranges from her opposition to Common Core and Senate Bill 91 to her modern-day feuds with the pandemic, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Airlines. That’s all to say, Lora Reinbold capped off her legislative career on her own terms. Interestingly, Reinbold explained that the main reasons she was leaving was three-fold: An ethics complaint for blocking a troll on Facebook, a lawsuit over blocking a troll of Facebook that she said has cost her $60,000 in legal fees and revenge on Alaska Airlines (well, she didn’t explicitly say revenge, but she did mention further legal action). She also said she plans to be keeping an eye on elections and plans to keep people honest about their votes, which ought to be interesting.

Impact: Her departure leaves the seat open for a race that currently pits moderate Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick, who capitalized on her moderate status to a power position in the House bipartisan coalition, against Rep. Ken McCarty, who is thought to be the House Republican minority’s smart guy…

And the best of the rest who are getting some rest

Democratic Reps. Ivy Spohnholz, Tiffany Zulkosky, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Adam Wool (who’s thrown in for U.S. House) are joined by Republican Reps. Steve Thompson and Sara Rasmussen, Senate President Peter Micciche and Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof in officially announcing their departure from the Legislature. There are others that are also leaving due to redistricting or eyes on other races but this group—along with Sen. Reinbold—are the crew who’ve made some kind of official announcement that has at least made my radar. It’s no big secret that legislative sessions have grown increasingly miserable over the last few years and who could blame folks who all probably have better opportunities to start looking at better ways to spend 120+ days a year.

Impact: Several high-quality legislators are on their way out—which isn’t great and ought to tell you a lot about how things are going down in Juneau—but the open seats also mean new opportunities for talented rising stars. Already, we’ve seen Spohnholz staffer Genevieve Mina file for House District 19 and Wool’s Chief of Staff Ashley Carrick filed for his soon-to-be-former district, House District 35.

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