Voters in Nikiski said partisan conflict and the economy were their overriding concerns during the state and presidential election Tuesday.
Incumbent Republican State Sen. Cathy Giessel and independent challenger Ron Devon spoke about many of the same issues during their election campaigns although the two stood in sharp contrast to one another.
Giessel, who was elected to state senate in 2010, is an advanced nurse practitioner who consults and practices in several clinics in Anchorage.
She refused to participate in a 16-senator bipartisan senate coalition, which has controlled the senate for several years.
Devon sharply criticized Giessel’s partnership with the four-Republican minority and said, if elected, he would work to bridge the partisan divide.
However, as early results rolled in, Giessel held more than a 10 percent margin of victory over Devon.
By 10:30 p.m. it became clear Giessel would carry the district with more than 57 percent of the vote and 15 out of the 19 precincts reporting.
By the end of the evening, Giessel carried more than 56 percent of the district.
“I’m excited to get back to work, honestly,” she said as she celebrated her re-election at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage.
The most important issue looking forward, she said, was getting more oil in Alaska’s pipeline.
“That’s what funds the state government which in turn funds education, roads and health care,” she said.
The newly formed Senate District N had many on the campaign trail questioning how a senator from Anchorage could identify with issues on the Kenai Peninsula.
Both candidates were Anchorage residents and the geographically diverse district caused consternation with some Nikiski voters during the primary election.
Giessel repeatedly answered questions on the campaign trail about how she could identify with the needs of Peninsula residents.
She said the parts of Anchorage she covered were rural.
“There’s on-site water and wastewater treatment. We share a lot of the same employers in oil and gas, tourism, mining, fishing,” she said after winning her primary election. “It’s not really south Anchorage and people frame it as south Anchorage. It’s not the Dimon Mall. It’s the hillside and Turnagain Arm. These are the rural parts of Anchorage.”
Giessel said the results of the election were a vote of confidence in her ability to effectively manage the large district.
“I think that what the people that live in the Peninsula and the Turnagain Arm part of the district and I realized is that we share similar values and that’s really, certainly, what I look for when I choose who I vote for,” she said. “What are those core values that we do agree upon that are really the most important? I think that’s what I’m seeing in this vote result.”
Kelly Limric, of Nikiski, said she knew she was voting for Giessel when she went into the polling booth, but it didn’t change her confusion with the new district.
“It’s a very strange seat,” she said. “How do we have the same concerns as South Anchorage? Her constituency is going to be in Anchorage.”
Giessel said she planned to have a series of community meetings on the Kenai Peninsula before heading to Juneau in January.
“I’m looking forward to getting an office started down there at the Kenai (Legislative Information Office),” she said. “I will be down in the district even before session begins.”
Results also showed a 13-Republican majority in the 20-seat senate, a mix Giessel said she was excited to work with.
“We can finally move Alaska forward,” she said. “With the results of the federal campaigns, with the re-election of our current president ... We need a strong state legislature and a strong governor to keep us an economically viable part of the United States.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org