At least 50 people walked into the Nikiski Senior Center around 5 p.m. Tuesday and many said they were confused by what they saw on their ballot after casting their votes in the primary election.
They entered the ballot booth believing they’d be voting between incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner and challenger Peter Micciche and were instead asked to pick between incumbent Cathy Giessel and challenger Joe Arness.
The trouble revolved around Senate District N, a newly formed legislative district which covers the northern portions of the Kenai Peninsula including Nikiski, Sterling, Cooper Landing and the eastern portion, from Hope to Seward, as well as Turnagain Arm and south Anchorage.
Nikiski is no longer part of the same district as neighboring Kenai and Soldotna and some voters expressed dismay at the geographic diversity of their new district.
“The demographic style between south Anchorage and here is so vastly different,” said Lindsay Cooper. “How will she be able to represent both when south Anchorage has a much different demographic? The industry is different, the population is different.”
That thought is something Giessel said she was hoping to combat as she continues her re-election campaign against Ron Devon, an Independent challenger who is also from Anchorage.
“That’s why I’m here on the Peninsula three to four days a week, travelling,” she said. “I don’t go home at night because it is so critical that I’m there in person meeting people and hearing the needs of the area and understanding just the geography and the community, all of that. I understand that it’s a big piece of geography and I understand the responsibility of knowing the issues and knowing the people.”
Giessel said her opponent’s lack of visibility on the Kenai Peninsula was part of the reason he lost the primary.
“At the end of the day, this is applying for a job and if you were an employer and somebody sent in a letter to apply for a job but never took the time to interview with you personally, how would you feel?,” she said.
As she did often on the campaign trail, Giessel called the portion of Anchorage that she represented “rural” and said it shared many issues with other residents of the Kenai Peninsula.
“There’s on-site water and wastewater treatment,” she said. “We share a lot of the same employers in oil and gas, tourism, mining, fishing. It’s not really south Anchorage and people frame it as south Anchorage. It’s not the Dimond Mall. It’s the hillside and Turnagain Arm. These are the rural parts of Anchorage.”
Devon, Giessel’s new opponent, said he’d been hearing people on the Kenai Peninsula say they weren’t happy with the idea of representation from Anchorage. His solution has also been to travel the Peninsula and communicate with residents.
“There’s quite a diversity in our district,” Devon said. “I’ve lived in a lot of rural and urban settings in the state, I think I have a unique perspective in a lot of areas. For me, it’s a lot of getting to know folks in different areas and I resonate with people pretty well.”
With all precincts reporting, Giessel carried nearly 65 percent of the vote while Arness had just over 35 percent.
Arness, who spent the evening at his cabin in Nikiski, said he was honored that so many people had voted for him.
“I feel badly that I didn’t prevail, but on the other hand $60,000 versus $4,000, what do you expect,” he said. “I did what I could.”
Editors note: This article was changed after a quote was misattributed to Cathy Giessel when it should have been attributed to Ron Devon.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.