Local elections see Fairbanks conservatives shift tactics after last year’s flop

Fairbanks North Star Borough administrative center (By RadioKAOS (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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With a month to go until the fall statewide elections, a bunch of local governments had their night this week with local elections going on in pretty much every corner of the state. In Ketchikan, voters look to be rejecting an initiative that would cancel borough funding for the Ketchikan Public Library. Juneau voted to repeal a 2020 law that requires the disclosure of real estate sales prices to the city’s assessor’s office. On the Kenai Peninsula, Borough Assembly assemblyman Jessie Bjorkman (who’s also running against GOP organizer Tuckerman Babcock for the state Senate seat) won his race with a big margin. On a 22-vote margin, Bethel voted to amend the city code and ban any future mask mandates. In the Mat-Su, Mat-Su things are happening with the more notable election news being the Mat-Su Borough Assembly voting to require a hand count for its upcoming Nov. 8 local election and officials in Houston suddenly resigned ahead of the certification of its elections.

And in Fairbanks (where I spent much of my Alaska career reporting on local elections, so forgive the soft spot), local politics saw its latest pendulum swing to the right. Conservative candidates took all but two of the seats that were up for grabs between the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, Fairbanks City Council and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board (though some of the races are close enough that the yet-to-be-counted ballots could sway things).

It’s an interesting turn for the Golden Heart City, coming just a year after progressives saw broad success across the slate of races, which was the first big blue wave the city had seen after several years of conservative success, which itself came after a long period of progressive domination at the borough level. 

Talking with some people who were involved in the races, there’s a couple different factors at play here that I think are worth unpacking.

First and foremost, Anchorage’s far-right scene isn’t currently in full-on rampage mode for this election. Last year’s fall local elections took place during the worst of the ugly anti-masking protests at the Anchorage Assembly, where the worst of the extreme right was on display, proudly wearing Stars of David, packing the occasional firearm and producing nightly head-turning moments that put a lot of centrists on red alert. It certainly didn’t help that Fairbanks’ slate of conservative candidates last year—which included folks like Lance “My Magazine Tantrum Inadvertently Brought Gloria Steinem to Fairbanks” Roberts and Patricia Silva—seemed even more conservative and unhinged than Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard. 

Centrists looked at the whole thing and thought better of it while progressives were galvanized into a groundswell of support. 

A year later, though, and the general feeling seems to be that unlike our esteemed Republican candidates for the U.S. House, the conservatives up in Fairbanks appear to be getting the message that being completely and overtly unlikable whackos isn’t exactly a winning strategy when there’s a center nervous about the status of the status quo. The candidate forums were described as oddly—perhaps even a little unnervingly—congenial and the campaigns generally stayed positive. 

At least among the folks I talked with, there’s some extremely cautious optimism the shift toward decency on the campaign trail might just translate into some decency in office or, at the very least, some hope the conservatives won’t find themselves beholden to whoever’s screaming the loudest this week. Whether any of that pans out to be true, though, will only be seen in the coming months. 

And, at the very least, it was a bunch of close elections and there’s always next year for things to swing back.

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