After months of campaigning, it appears two Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates will have to wait a bit longer to see who officially wins Tuesday’s borough election.
With all other precincts reporting, only 12 votes separated Kalifornsky district assembly candidates Kelly Wolf and Michael Winegarden, making the race too close to call with absentee ballots still to be counted.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said results will become official, with gathered and tallied absentee ballots, on Tuesday when the assembly certifies them. Blankenship was unsure how many absentee ballots were still out.
With four of five precincts reporting, Wolf tallied 188 votes to Winegarden’s 176 votes, or 51.23 percent to 47.96 percent, respectively. The winner of the election will take current assembly president Gary Knopp’s three-year District 1 seat.
Wolf served as a state representative from 2003 to 2005 and is a program coordinator for the Youth Restoration Corps. Winegarden is a local Realtor and owner of the Floor Center who serves with the Kenai Peninsula Realtors Association.
“Oh, wow ... honestly I kind of expected to be slammed a little bit,” Winegarden said with a laugh late Tuesday night. “It is actually good to hear.”
Winegarden said his expectations were modest in the race because Wolf is “more of a politician” and he felt Wolf campaigned harder.
“I’ve tried to stay away from the publicity,” he said.
Wolf said he didn’t have a “good take” on how close the race might be.
“I think the people’s choice will be the people’s choice,” he said. “I think anybody that puts their best foot forward and runs for public office as a servant of the people, my hat’s off to them because we need more people out there. Look at the uncontested races around the borough. That’s a sad commentary for us.”
Winegarden said he was unsure what the future would hold if he was not elected to the assembly. He said that uncertainty comes from how he decided to run for the Kalifornsky seat — he was planning on running six years ago, but found out he would have had to run against Knopp.
“I backed out because I didn’t want to have to run up against somebody,” he said. “Gary was actually the one who called me up and talked me into putting my name in. He actually called me up when he was planning on getting the seat and said, ‘OK, when I’m done with my term you’re going to put your name in, right?’ ... Of course he did it and he called me up and said, ‘You promised me.’”
Winegarden was encouraged by the results — they were close because voters might have shied away from Wolf’s larger background in politics, he said.
“Not to say an incumbent, but just someone who has been in for too long,” he said. “That there’s no real change and that they want to see something new happen. So maybe they wanted to give someone else a chance to step in and shake (things) up a little bit.”
Wolf said he was disappointed with voter turnout — of the 7,950 registered voters in District 1, 378 voters, or 4.8 percent, cast a ballot.
“I believe it is a constitutional obligation that we have,” Wolf said. “I’m glad that at least some people showed up, but I wish it was more.”
In Tuesday’s race for the two-year Kenai assembly seat, incumbent Hal Smalley bested Chris Hutchison 399 votes to 208 votes, or 65.63 percent to 34.21 percent respectively.
Smalley said he was pleased voters chose him to represent Kenai on the assembly again — he is in his fourth year of service. Smalley, a retired educator, was also a state representative from 1999 to 2001 and is a former Kenai City Council member.
“I’m very happy, I’m really pleased, and it is really a privilege to represent the city on the assembly and the rest of the borough for that matter too,” he said.
Smalley said a few of his main concerns going forward would be looking at the future of solid waste in the borough, maintaining roads, keeping the budget and borough coffers healthy in addition to looking at the anadromous streams ordinance.
“There’s some confusion, some misinformation and one of the things I’ve tried to do is clarify what is going on with the anadromous streams ordinance,” he said.
Hutchison, a 40-year resident of Alaska and a field operations assistant for Hilcorp, said she was disappointed because she wanted to make the assembly more “taxpayer friendly” and more responsive to the public.
“It is not unexpected — he is the incumbent,” she said. “It is my first time that I’ve ever done this and so you have to consider (that). Having never done it before you never know how much you have to do.”
Hutchison said she would continue to be an advocate at the borough level, specifically for increased borough public notice and against the anadromous streams ordinance. Hutchison said she started pulling up her campaign signs and replacing them with signs advocating for the ordinance’s repeal.
“That level of public notice is not acceptable and that has got to be changed,” she said. “So ultimately we will continue to work to repeal the ordinance and get the public notice changed and then if there is serious involvement in the community that wants to replace everything of 2011-12, they will bring it again and go around again.”
Smalley said he thinks voters sided with him because they felt he had been doing a good job. Regardless, he said he still got the election day jitters.
“Every election, especially when there is opposition, there is a certain amount of nervousness,” he said. “You believe you have done all the right things. You just go out and work as hard as you can and try to contact as many folks as you can, have good conversations with them and see what happens.”
Hutchison said she would consider running again in 2014.
“I can’t see why not,” she said. “I mean somebody is going to and in all likelihood they will run unopposed. So maybe I can find somebody to run against me.”
Assembly member Sue McClure on Tuesday secured her uncontested re-election bid for the East Peninsula seat she has held since 2009. She tallied 527 votes in District 6.
In District 9, incumbent assembly member Mako Haggerty retained his South Peninsula seat against challenger Jesse Clutts. Haggerty received 429 votes to Clutts’ 263, or 61.82 percent to 37.0 percent, respectively.
“We gave it our best chance. We gave people what I thought was a clear choice, a different option, a different candidate, a different ideology,” Clutts said. “They chose to stick with Mako. That’s the way it goes.”
Clutts, who also ran with Tom Clark against Haggerty three years ago, said it’s too soon to tell if he will run again after Haggerty finishes his term and can no longer run again because of term limits.
“I can’t say I wouldn’t run again, but it’s not on the top of my to-do list,” Clutts said. “I had a lot of fun with it. ... I’m glad it’s offer. It’s now back to things that pay money.”
Mako Haggerty wasn’t available at press time.
Homer News reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this report.
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Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.