Democrats may have flipped control of the U.S. House, but Republicans have flipped control of the Alaska House.
Preliminary results from the Alaska Division of Elections indicate Republicans have won at least 20 seats in the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives. In a 21st race, that for House District 1, Republican candidate Bart LeBon leads Democratic candidate Kathryn Dodge by 79 votes as both await the tallying of absentee and questioned ballots. Absentee votes in that district have favored the Republican so far.
Tuesday night’s election results likely mean a much more benign legislature for incoming Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
With Republicans in control of the Alaska Senate (in one Fairbanks district, Republican Senate President Pete Kelly leads Democratic challenger Scott Kawasaki by 11 votes), control of the Alaska House gives the GOP a trifecta: the governor’s office, House and Senate.
That allows Republicans to take the lead on budgeting and legislation during the legislative session that begins in January. A majority in the House allows Republicans to appoint chairmen and a Speaker of the House, then set the agenda for the two-year legislative session.
In a press conference Thursday, the 21 members of the Republican House Majority (including LeBon) announced that David Talerico, the Republican from Healy, will be the next Speaker of the House.
Taking the microphone in Anchorage, Talerico said the group is still settling on its principles and committee assignments, but it has chosen Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, as chairwoman of the powerful Rules Committee.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, will serve as co-chairs of the House Finance Committee. (Both have long served as members of that committee.)
“What we are right now is we are a caucus in construction. We’re building,” Talerico said, explaining that no other committee chairmen have been decided.
It also has not been decided whether the new majority will require its members to vote in unison on budget items.
Twenty-one members is the bare minimum to control the 40-member House, and one of the members in this new group is Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla. Eastman, first elected in 2016, earned a reputation for cantankerousness by frequently voting against measures that otherwise had unanimous support.
Reporters asked about potential problems with Eastman.
“We’re going to stand together as a strong 21, and you’re not going to see the problems that we had last year,” Wilson said.
Talerico said he has reached out to other lawmakers, including Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, to judge their interest in joining the new majority.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, the House of Representatives was controlled by a Democratic-led coalition majority that included two independents and three Republicans alongside 17 Democrats.
Though the coalition had its difficulties (Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, quit the coalition toward the end of the second year), it largely stuck together even if it didn’t accomplish its goal of approving a comprehensive budget-balancing plan.
Tuesday’s election results upended the coalition.
Incumbent Homer Rep. Paul Seaton lost by 18 percentage points to Republican challenger Sarah Vance. Seaton, a longtime Republican, joined the coalition as one of its three Republican members in 2016 and served as a chairman of the House Finance Committee. In response, the Alaska Republican Party actively campaigned against Seaton, who ran as an independent and won the Democratic primary in House District 31.
That didn’t help him on election night.
In Anchorage, another independent member of the coalition suffered a loss to a Republican challenger. Rep. Jason Grenn, representing Anchorage’s Sand Lake House District 22, lost to Republican Sara Rasmussen by 5.4 percentage points on election night. The defeat was in large part due to perennial Anchorage candidate Dustin Darden, who entered the race as a Democrat even though the Alaska Democratic Party ran ads urging district residents to vote for Grenn.
Darden picked up 11.35 percent of the vote in the district, enough to make the difference.
Elsewhere across the state, Democrats picked up no Republican seats despite earnest campaigning and fundraising totals that outmatched Republicans’ in several districts.
In Interior Alaska’s House District 6, Democratic candidate Ed Alexander raised nearly three times as much money as Talerico but lost on Election Day by 32 percentage points. In Anchorage’s House District 27, Democratic candidate Liz Snyder raised nearly $82,000 in a campaign to try to defeat Pruitt but lost by three percentage points. Similar stories were seen in districts 28 and 29.
In House District 1, Republicans appear to have picked up a seat previously controlled by a Democrat.
In that district, which consists of much of downtown Fairbanks, Dodge and LeBon are each seeking to replace Kawasaki, who left his seat to challenge Kelly for his Alaska Senate seat. Dodge and LeBon ran the most expensive House races in the state, with Dodge raising more than $121,000 and LeBon raising more than $104,000.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham and the last Legislature’s Speaker of the House, issued a press release after the Republicans’ announcement, saying that with absentee and question ballots still to be counted, “the outcome could easily be a 20-20 split.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or 523-2258.