With an extraordinary upset on Election Day, Democratic underdog Justin Parish defeated Republican incumbent Cathy Muñoz for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives.
Parish, who ran for office on a platform of budget balance and the creation of a new bipartisan majority in the House, defeated Muñoz 50.9 percent to 48.5 percent with all precincts reporting. Some absentee ballots remain to be counted, but they are not expected to alter the outcome. Parish leads by 184 votes out of 7,685 recorded in the race.
“I’m doing pretty well,” Parish said when reached by phone after the final results were announced.
He said his joy at his own victory was tempered by the loss of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Parish supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, then switched his support to Clinton when she defeated Sanders.
Parish acknowledged some irony in his victory: the same anti-incumbent, anti-insider wave that swept Donald Trump into the White House probably contributed to his election.
“There’s some truth to that, there’s some element of that, yes,” he said when asked about it.
Parish thanked his supporters, donors and the voters who put him into office; he also thanked Muñoz for her years of experience.
Muñoz did not respond to messages sent to her cellphone, and her campaign manager declined to offer a statement on the record, but in a conversation with KTOO-FM reporter Jeremy Hsieh, she said it no longer appears that she can win.
In 2008, her first run for statehouse, Muñoz defeated incumbent Democrat Andrea Doll with 50.8 percent of the vote to Doll’s 45.6 percent. In 2010 and 2012, Muñoz ran for re-election unopposed. Two years ago, she defeated Democrat George McGuan, a 33-year-old electrician, with 61.2 percent of the vote to his 36.9 percent.
Parish’s victory is a win for House Democrats who have been attempting to form a bipartisan majority in the House. Entering the election, the Republican-led House majority caucus had 26 members, while the Democrat-led minority had 13 members. Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was not a part of a caucus.
According to election results at press time, the Democratic minority appeared to have picked up as many as six seats. If the minority gains the support of the moderate Republicans within the “Musk Ox Caucus” that is nominally part of the existing majority, a new majority could be possible as early as this week.
Parish will fly to Anchorage on Wednesday, where he is expected to participate in caucus leadership meetings and Legislative planning sessions designed to assign committees and roles in next year’s Legislature.