Home Assembly Beat: Anchorage Last Minute High Jinks and Shenanigans Abound as Anchorage Prepares for Local...

Last Minute High Jinks and Shenanigans Abound as Anchorage Prepares for Local Elections

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The last days before an election always guarantee some high jinks and shenanigans and Anchorage never skips an opportunity to join in on the head scratching controversy. Over the last week, two candidates’ last ditch efforts to tackle their opponents spanned from the bizarre to the more bizarre.

It’s too much fun not to engage in a quick recap. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Sign of the (Way-Back) Times

In the midtown race to replace outgoing Anchorage Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson, who is terming out, Felix Rivera found himself on the wrong end of campaign literature over the weekend.

Rivera, endorsed by Gray-Jackson in a swing district that in recent years has drifted to the left, faces three conservative challengers in Marcus Sanders, Ron Alleva, and Don Smith. Smith is a former state legislator, Anchorage Assembly member, and school board member, who proudly takes credit for the municipality’s tax cap. His electibility has waned considerably after comments about minority students when attempting to reclaim his school board seat in 2014.

During a taping of Running on Alaska Public Media, Smith said,

“When I was in Anchorage High School, it was about 98 percent white students, and the balance were probably Native and one or two black students in the school. Today we’re 48 percent white, 52 percent other, and that clearly is causing problems.”

He would lose that contest by a little over 15 points.

As an Assembly member who cast a vote against an antidiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBT residents of municipality 41 years ago, his opinions on the matter seem as outdated as his view on minorities.

A new round of campaign mailers paid for by the Smith campaign are targeting Rivera via a side-by-side comparison of the “big differences” between the two candidates. With Rivera’s bullet points illustrated by icons of money on fire, Smith charges, “Felix Rivera’s agenda revolves around inflicting his moral and religious ideology onto your family.”

Rivera is an openly gay man.

“Whether it’s my stance on equal rights or on the moral and economic imperative to deal with homelessness, Anchorage voters want to know the values I’ll use to make decisions on the Assembly — those of equity and access,” Rivera countered. I spoke with him Sunday night. “You can hold those values and still believe in religious freedom, free speech, civil rights, and equal opportunity for all. The fact that you can believe in equal rights and religious freedom is what makes Anchorage great. Mr. Smith seems to be on the opposite side of the majority of Anchorage voters on these issues and more.”

Smith has made clear in the past he wishes no interaction with Alaska Commons.

Fred Dyson and a Strange Line of Questioning

Eagle River is, along with South Anchorage, the municipality’s most solid conservative bastion.

The two most conservative members of the 11-member Assembly, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, are from Eagle River. The last five elections, conservatives have pulled in an average of just under 62 percent of the vote. So, it has historically not been a matter of whether or not a conservative will be elected, it’s a matter of which one, though Gretchen Wehmhoff is the strongest center-left candidate in recent memory.

The front runner is Fred Dyson — who served as a state senator for a year shy of a decade after five years in the state house. The 78 year old legislative veteran says people asked him to run for office when Starr’s seat opened up due to term limits.

During his legislative tenure, Dyson was a fierce advocate of the constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman and has, more recently, taken up the cause of opposing the rights of transgender Alaskans.

“Former State Sen. Fred Dyson testified and warned of a ‘Pandora’s box’ when it comes to restrooms and other public accommodations,” ADN’s Devin Kelly noted in 2015, when the Anchorage Assembly was deliberating the latest (and ultimately successful) ordinance to codify antidiscrimination protections for LGBT residents of Anchorage.

Last Friday, Dyson took a rather odd approach in continuing this fight, as a candidate for Assembly, grilling school board candidates on the question during the Anchorage NAACP candidate forum — the final forum before Tuesday’s election. It was a sight to see.

After noting that he was a victim of bullying as a child, Dyson informed (incorrectly) the candidates that one “unintended consequence” of the “very well-intended” ordinance was that the protections signed into law is that people can now,

choose their gender. And one of the results of that is boys can compete on girls’ athletic teams. My grandson ran a state championship last year. A boy ran as a — a physical boy ran as a girl. That’s happening across the country. But also says, if somebody can choose — a male can choose to be in a girls’ shower room, locker room, dressing room, and so on — personal privacy is, in my view, being sacrificed in our well-intended desire to be sensitive to people with gender issues.

He asked the school board candidates if they supported the ordinance.

After audience members began shouting, “I support it!” School Board candidate James Smallwood firmly responded, “If there’s any special accommodation that needs to happen, than [ASD] will oblige for that. So, that’s your answer.

Aren’t municipal politics fun?

Polls open on Tuesday.

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