A dozen state lawmakers face challenges in Alaska primary

JUNEAU — A dozen Alaska state legislators face challenges from within their parties during Tuesday’s primary election.

In an unusual move, the Republican and Democratic parties — generally reluctant to pick sides during a primary — have gotten involved in some of the races.

All 40 House seats and half of the Senate’s 20 seats are up for election. Two senators, Republican Bert Stedman of Sitka and Democrat Donny Olson of Golovin, are unopposed this year. Seven House Democrats, six of whom are in the minority, and Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault also face no opposition.

It is still possible for someone to run as a write-in candidate, however; the deadline for doing so is five days before the November election.

Republicans control both chambers.

The races will be held against the backdrop of a multibillion-dollar deficit that lawmakers have yet to close.

In all, nine legislators are giving up their seats, either because they aren’t seeking re-election, or — in the case of Reps. Lynn Gattis, Craig Johnson and Shelley Hughes — they’ve opted to run for the Senate.

Earlier this year, state GOP leaders took the unusual step of endorsing George Rauscher over incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Colver of Palmer. Rauscher made a failed bid for the seat in 2014.

State Republican Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said the action wasn’t taken lightly. But he thinks Colver is a Democrat who would organize with Democrats at the first opportunity.

Colver is part of the “Musk Ox Coalition,” a loose affiliation of moderates in the Republican-led House who on a handful of issues have bucked leadership or aligned with minority Democrats.

Another “musk ox” facing a primary challenge, Republican Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer, is being targeted by a third-party spending group.

Colver, on his website, defends his voting record as one of the most conservative in the Legislature and said he works for his constituents — not “party bosses.”

In an interview, Colver said he’s a proud member of the Republican-led majority and said there’s nothing wrong with having some independence and different points of view within that group. He pegs his troubles with party leaders to his vote against a bill that would have put legislators on a gas line board. The bill passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Walker. Colver saw the bill as unconstitutional — a conclusion also reached by the attorney general’s office.

“I guess the lesson is, if you don’t go along with the flow and do what you’re told, you might get thrown under the bus,” Colver said.

The state Democratic party, meanwhile, has donated to the challengers of fellow Democratic Reps. Bob Herron of Bethel and Benjamin Nageak of Barrow. Herron and Nageak are among four Democrats in the House majority.

Herron is a leader within the majority who expressed frustration that pieces of the governor’s plan to address the deficit weren’t sent to the House floor for a vote. Nageak is a co-chair of the House Resources Committee.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Casey Steinau said there was no formal decision by the party to back Herron challenger Zach Fansler and Dean Westlake, who made a failed run against Nageak in 2014. Fansler and Westlake asked the party for its support, Steinau said.

She said her party’s goal is to get a “true bipartisan coalition” in the House that holds shared power.

More in News

(Juneau E
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Ron Ekis (wearing red) and Dakota Brown order from Devils Hideaway at the new Vintage Food Truck Park as Marty McKeown, owner of the property, shows seating facilities still under construction to other local media members on Wednesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
New Vintage Food Truck Park makes year-round debut

Two of planned five food trucks now open, with covered seating and other offerings in the works.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

An aerial view of mud and forest debris that buried a stretch of the Zimovia Highway a day after a landslide struck an area of Wrangell on Nov. 21. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
Authorities in Wrangell suspend search for boy missing after deadly landslide

Authorities have suspended the search for the 12-year-old boy still missing following… Continue reading

Steve Bradford (left) and Mark Kissel, both vice presidents of the Riverside Condominiums Homeowners Association, discuss repairs to two of the complex’s buildings on Aug. 9 as a bulldozer places rock fill under a corner of one building exposed by erosion during record flooding of the Mendenhall River on Aug. 5. Repairs to both buildings ultimately were successful. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau Community Foundation offering pool of $28,300 in relief funds to Suicide Basin flood victims

Deadline to apply is Dec. 31, funds will be divided among applicants.

Key Bank was one of the banks victimized by a Juneau man who was sentenced Tuesday to two-and-a-half years in prison for stealing nearly $580,000 multiple banks and credit unions between 2020 and 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Former Juneau armored guard sentenced to 2½ years for stealing from banks, credit unions

Austin Nolan Dwight Rutherford, 29, convicted of stealing nearly $580,000 between 2020 and 2022.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Dec. 4, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The Juneau School District is entangled in a dispute with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development about supplemental funds the city provides for what the district calls non-instructional purposes such as after-school programs and pupil transportation. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire file photo)
State seeks to change rules for ‘local contribution’ funds to school districts beyond the ‘cap’

Education department abandons challenge under existing state law to Juneau, other districts.

A chart shows the proposed plans for each of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s nine ferries next summer under a schedule open for public comment until Dec. 19. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
Proposed ferry schedule for next summer looks a lot like this year’s — with one possible big exception

Cross-Gulf sailings will resume if enough crew hired; AMHS begins two-week public comment period.

Most Read