Incumbent state Rep. Kurt Olson won the Republican primary election by 293 votes, 55.86 percent of the total votes, Tuesday evening, to ensure a return to Juneau to reprsent Kenai, Soldotna and Kalifornsky..
Olson garnered 1,397 votes from District 29’s voters. His opponent, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Gary Knopp, received 1,104 votes, or 44.14 percent of the total vote.
In other Peninsula house races, Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault ran unopposed for the District 28 seat. In the District 30 Republican race, incumbent Paul Seaton held a lead over challenger Jon Faulkner, though neither was ready to declare victory or concede defeat. Liz Diament was the sole candidate on the District 30 Democratic ballot.
Olson said he was feeling a lot better as the night continued; he led by one vote as the first precinct reported.
Voters like the direction he is taking in Juneau. The direction is similar to Knopp’s, he admitted.
“I feel from that standpoint we were in tune with the people of the district,” Olson said.
The two candidates spoke with each other during breakfast. Olson said he imagines they’ll be meeting in the next few days, too.
Oil taxation was key to Olson’s platform. He has worked on the issue since his start in the capitol eight years ago. Olson and Speaker of the House Chenault voted against the Alaska Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) and the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) because they weren’t economically feasible, he said.
His priorities extend beyond oil taxation. During the last legislative session, a total of 370 bills were introduced in the House, and 75 bills went on to pass both the House and Senate. The incumbent said he had a major hand in eight of those bills.
Fish allocation is Olson’s next priority. The system in place isn’t working, he said.
“That’s something we need to address sooner rather than later,” he said. “The (fishing) season this year has had an effect on the entire community.”
Knopp said his camp would stay optimistic until all ballots were counted.
Working on the borough’s issues has granted Knopp familiarity with local and statewide dilemmas. He has slowly connected the dots and prepared himself for a larger stage, he said.
His borough assembly term ends this year.
If elected, the assembly president had committed to two to three terms as a House representative, a decision he conveyed during his campaign. His bid was unsucessful, however. A return to private life is in order, he said.
“We have a lot of things we’d like to work on in our private life, so we feel good no matter what happens,” Knopp said. “We’re happy with our campaign, we’re not going to second guess our strategy.”
Knopp said during his campaign that the federal government’s actions are detrimental to resolving the state’s issues. He also argued bloated state agencies and regulations require curtailing.
Knopp pointed to the Alaska’s operating budget to argue his case. Ten years ago, the state budget was about $3 billion; this year’s budget is $12 billion. The operating budget accounts for $9 billion of that total.
The state should use some of the dollars in the operating budget to build infrastructure, not bureaucracies, he said.
He said he thinks that message struck a cord with voters, and, as a result, they came out to support him. But the two major factors that attracted voters: his willingness to work hard and the anti-incumbency factor.
“I showed a willingness to work hard, which I also did during my six years at the assembly level,” he said. “I think a lot of people recognized that I would be a welcome change in the capitol.”
In the District 30 race, with 10 out of 11 precincts reporting, Seaton, held a strong lead over, 1,421 votes to 1,153, or 55.21 percent to 44.79 percent. With absentee ballots and one final precinct not counted, neither candidate felt comfortable calling the election.
Seaton said he had not heard from Faulkner,
“I’m reluctant to go out and say anything, but say it looks really good,” Seaton said. “I’m much more confident than I was earlier in the evening. I’d kind of like to let the vote actually come in.”
Faulkner also didn’t want to call the election.
“It’s clearly not a favorable result, but I’ll probably have a full statement tomorrow,” Faulkner said. “I’m obviously disappointed at the turnout.”
Noting that Democratic Party candidate Liz Diament had 718 votes, Faulkner said that with his 1,153 votes, challengers outpolled Seaton.
“More people have voted against the incumbent than for him,” Faulkner said.
Diament said in a statement that she believes she can help bring about a more responsive government and that will resonate with the people of the Kenai Peninsula.
“The race ahead is not just about our economy or our resources. It is about preserving a way of life that is threatened by the group-think that happens in Juneau. I am looking forward to a meaningful discussion,” she said.
Homer News reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this report.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.