Wagoner unseats Ward

Wolf, Chenault win House 33, 34 seats

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Kenai Peninsula voters turned two-term incumbent Republican Jerry Ward out of office Tuesday, opting to hand his seat in the Alaska Senate to his Republican Moderate challenger Tom Wagoner.

By 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wagoner led Ward by 411 votes with all 14 precincts reporting, a 47.8-percent to 43.8-percent margin.

Absentee ballots have yet to be counted. That job may not be completed for a few days, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

In a much closer contest, Republican Kelly J. Wolf was holding a 188-vote lead over Democrat Hal Smalley in the race for House District 33, a newly created district without an incumbent.

Wolf declined to comment to the Clarion. Smalley did not concede defeat, preferring to wait several days until absentee and questioned ballots are counted.

Elsewhere, Republican Rep. Mike Chenault retained his seat in the Alaska House, winning over Republican Moderate James Price in the race for House District 34.

At the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, Republican Paul Seaton ran unopposed in the race for House District 35 and easily won election.

Likewise, Republican Sen. Alan Auster-man won the race for Senate District R, which includes House District 35.

Ward had a clear lead following the August primary and outspent Wagoner by a healthy margin in an effort to win in the revamped Senate District Q. But Ward carried some political baggage, including the fact that he moved from a comfortable upscale home in Anchorage to a trailer in Nikiski in May 2001 in order to establish residency in the new district.

Ward currently represents Senate District E, which includes parts of South Anchorage. Redistricting forced Ward to choose between running for re-election in Anchorage or moving south to the peninsula to run in Senate District Q. Ward chose the peninsula. Although his residency claims were challenged, the Division of Elections ruled in July that he was indeed a resident of Nikiski. Ward's voter registration was critical to that decision, an elections official said at the time.

"Residency played a part," Wagoner said when reached just after 9 p.m. Tuesday when he held a fairly commanding lead, 49 percent to 42.8 percent, with 12 of 14 precincts reporting.

"I think it was a combination of things. People began to realize residency is an issue. You need to know the people and the area to represent it."

Wagoner said it was a relief to have the contest finally over and that he owed his win to the support of Sen. John Torgerson, who will soon leave office, as well as Democrat Pat Hawkins, who dropped out of the race last week -- "also my volunteers, my wife who stood beside me, all the voters who came out who wanted to make a change and wanted to have a peninsula senator."

Ward was not available for comment Tuesday night. Reached at their home about 9:45 p.m., Margaret Ward said her husband was resting.

Also running in the Senate District Q race was Thomas Stroman, the Green Party of Alaska candidate, who got 184 votes. Democrat Hawkins, even after dropping out of the race, got 656 votes.

The Senate District Q race drew better than 42 percent of the eligible voters.

In the House District 33 race, Smalley remained confident he had a chance to overcome Wolf's 188-vote lead. He trailed 2,589 to 2,401.

"There are a good deal more than that in absentee ballots out there," he said. "Con-ceding? Hea-vens no!"

Smalley said he was somewhat surprised by the numbers, and that he had expected it to be fairly close but figured he'd be ahead, not behind.

"I didn't anticipate this," he said. "But I wouldn't have changed anything. I would have campaigned the same way. We ran a well-organized campaign."

Reached at Kenai Chrysler, which hosts an election-night party, Wolf merely said, "Why don't you get your story from Hal Smalley?" He would not comment further on his apparent victory.

House District 34 winner Rep. Mike Chenault was feasting on pizza when reached by the Clarion for comment.

He said he was glad the race was over and said he thinks his ability to compromise resonated with voters.

"People look at me and know I'm not extreme one way or another," he said.

"I look at all sides of an issue and try to determine if it is best for the community or not. I'm not far right and I'm not far left."

Chenault, who garnered 3,476 votes to Price's 1,451, not counting absentee ballots, praised Price for a clean campaign.

"My opponent and I ran a clean race that dealt with issues and my record and that's what we should do," he said. "There was no negativity in it. We didn't go at each other. I appreciate the fact that we did run clean campaigns. We talked issues."

Price could not be reached for comment.

The House District 33 and 34 races each drew just over 42 percent voter turnout.

In Homer, Paul Seaton, who ousted Rep. Drew Scalzi in the Republican primary election in August, was unchallenged in the race for House District 35.

With 10 of 11 precincts reporting, Seaton had better than 94 percent of the vote.

Likewise, Sen. Alan Austerman of Kodiak was easily winning Senate District R with 96 percent of the vote with 14 of 25 precincts reporting by just after 10 p.m. Tuesday.

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