As of the three o’clock hour in the cold morning of November 7th, the 2012 General Election is over. Mostly.
In Alaska, redistricting, as a result of the 2010 census, lead to 59 of 60 seats being thrown up for grabs. Residents of the 49th state were treated to a mad dash of sharp tongued television and radio spots, intense bouts of door knocking, mailboxes filled with seemingly daily campaign literature, desperate fundraising efforts, and densely populated candidate forums in the weeks leading up to Tuesday night’s gathering at the Dena’ina center. In the main event hall on 7th Ave., incumbents, hopefuls, supporters, and the media watched as results trickled in. Projectors displayed the slow crawl of district by district voter tallies on the wall, beginning around nine in the evening.
The gravity of the election was made clear in the lead up to the actual voting: the fate of the senate bi-partisan working group hung in the balance, with Governor Sean Parnell advocating for its dismantling to effect his desired changes in oil tax policy. It would seem, as the vote now stands, that he is likely to get his way.
The state house has no such existing coalition. This past session, the Republicans owned a 24 to 16 seat majority over the Democrats. Tonight, tentatively, affords the state GOP a one seat net gain.
However, two contests survive the night without a decision.
In east Anchorage, the bitter and vitriolic rivalry between dual incumbents in a merged district, Pete Petersen and Lance Pruitt, remains up in the air. Less than a hundred votes, out of over six thousand cast, separate the candidates. Pruitt sounds confident while Petersen maintains radio silence. This is well within the possible range of swinging when you factor in absentee votes, though probably not a likely scenario.
Likewise, the race in Southeast, between Republican Bill Thomas and Democratic challenger Jonathan Kriess-Tomkins, is separated by a narrow 44 vote margin. With over 6,000 votes cast in total, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that absentee ballots swinging this around. But as it stands, the Democratic Party stands poised to claim victory, knocking off an incumbent and minimizing the damage that could have, and was largely expected to, come.
In case you’re reading this from somewhere not in Alaska, you read the above statistic correctly. 44 votes was the difference; there is no missing digit or three. Up here, that’s kind of par for the course. In any given year, a handful of elections are decided by a small percentage of the average facebook friends list.
In the Senate, hopes of the continuation of the bipartisan working group seem dim.
The last session played host to an even 10/10 split between Democrats and Republicans. This inspired a deal between parties where Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) ceded majority leadership status to Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), allowing Republican control while allowing Ellis the pivotal position as chair of the Rules Committee. Both sides agreed to take the more partisan topics off the table so table so that the coalition could concentrate on middle of the road legislation where consensus could be reached.
Ultimately, it could not be reached.
Tuesday night saw the Democrats’ population in the senate dwindle from 10 to 7. That could diminish further to 6, as West Anchorage Democratic incumbent Hollis French currently clings to just a 249 vote lead over GOP challenger Bob Bell, with over half the district showing up to vote, and 12,617 votes cast. That puts French’s lead well within the margin of error when factoring in absentee ballots, which Bell indicated tonight could number over one thousand.
The biggest blow to the bipartisan coalition, however, was less about party affiliation, and more about the overall turnover in membership in both parties. Of the twenty coalition members who went into electoral thunderdome, including the August primary, ten remain.
Linda Menard (R-Wasilla) was ousted by tea party Republican Mike Dunleavy in the primary. Dunleavy coasted to a seat in the state senate unopposed. Thomas Wagoner (R-Kenai), met a similar fate against Republican colleague-turned-rival Peter Micciche. In the general, Democrat Albert Kookesh (D-Angoon) came up short against Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) in one of the redistricting-amplified races where popular incumbents were pitted against one another. Joe Paskvan (D-Fairbanks), Joe Thomas (D-Fairbanks), and Bettye Davis (D-Anchorage) lost in similar fashion.
Whether the dust settles on seven or six Democrats, the fate of the bipartisan working group rests on Republicans. Berta Gardner, as the sole Democratic pickup in the upper chamber, will obviously be on board. And Republican addition Click Bishop, from Fairbanks, has indicated an interest in a coalition as well. But a number of surviving GOP incumbents, who were a part of the group in the past, have indicated that they would prefer to move on. In the coming days, we will learn much from what Senators Kevin Meyer, Lesil McGuire, and Bert Stedman say about the working group’s future.
New faces are always welcome, and this cycle has no shortage of them. Click Bishop, Mike Dunleavy, Berta Gardner and Anna Fairclough (both moving from the house to the senate), Peter Micciche, Gabrielle LeDoux, Andy Josephson, Harriet Drummond, Geran Tarr, Laura Reinbold, Jonathan Kriess-Tomkins: welcome to the legislature.
This year, we had a decently healthy 18% turnover rate. At least as it stands right now.
To all, we would simply ask: Please drive responsibly.