Several legislative races will be won on Tuesday

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Partisan voters in Tuesday's closed primary will decide eight legislative races around the state months before the final vote in the November general election.

Some could tilt the balance of power in the GOP-controlled Legislature and affect who controls the House.

But under the state's new closed primary, the results of each race will carry with it a cloud of criticism for cutting some voters out of the mix.

Don Lowell is a registered Democrat from North Pole who is active in his party. Because he maintained his party affiliation, he cannot vote in the GOP primary that will effectively decide who represents House District 11.

That race is between House Majority Leader Jeannette James and incumbent Rep. John Coghill. No other candidate has filed to run so the winner of Tuesday's primary is virtually assured a win in November.

''The closed primary has denied me the opportunity to vote and it's going to affect other folks too,'' said Lowell.

More than 2,000 voters in that district will also not have a vote because of their party affiliation.

Lawmakers last year replaced the state's long-standing Blanket Primary after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a California case.

The Legislature created six separate primaries -- one for each of the state's political parties -- as opposed to the old system where votes could be cast in different races for candidates from several parties.

Each of the parties have restricted their ballots to party members and a large block of Alaskans registered as nonpartisan, undeclared or ''other.'' That group of 234,583 Alaskans makes up 51 percent of registered voters, according to statistics from the state Division of Elections.

Voters had the choice of changing their party affiliation one month before the primary, but they can vote in only one party's primary.

Alaska has had a Blanket Primary since 1967 and has had some form of single-ballot open primary since 1947. The state closed the Republican primary in three past years.

Lowell said he would have cast his vote for James, a five-term incumbent who has previously been a Democrat.

''For a Republican, I think she's doing a good job and I hope she wins in the primary,'' Lowell said. ''I guess the only thing I can do is vote for governor.''

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer is seeking the Democrat nomination for governor against Bruce Lemke and Michael Beasley. Ulmer is expected to easily win.

The race between James and Coghill will be closely watched. Their race is the last remaining matchup of incumbents caused by new legislative boundaries. The original redistricting plan pitted 20 incumbents against each other.

Pollsters have said the race is a dead heat while the two have run a campaign free of attack ads. But James announced this week that if re-elected she would seek to be the next Speaker of the House, which she said could benefit her district.

''I believe they have a better opportunity to get what they want with me in leadership,'' James said.

Coghill, who is the more conservative of the two candidates, dismissed it as both premature and a publicity stunt aimed at last minute votes.

Coghill said he would support Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican in line to replace House Speaker Brian Porter, who did not seek re-election.

Also vying for the top leadership post in the GOP-controlled House is Rep. Lisa Murkowski, who faces a Republican challenge in her new House District 18.

Murkowski is the daughter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski and has been a key member of a bipartisan caucus proposing new taxes and revenue measures to close the state's chronic budget shortfall.

Murkowski is running in a new district against Nancy Dahlstrom, a conservative Republican from Eagle River who has come out against such measures.

Republican Rep. Drew Scalzi, who was also part of the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, faces Paul Seaton. Peter Roberts is also on the ballot for House District 35, which included Homer, Seward and Cooper Landing.

Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in the Legislature and aren't expected to lose power in the two houses. But Democrats are expected to pick up additional seats this year.

Democrats will pick up two seats on Tuesday when partisan voters decide races in House District 23 in downtown Anchorage and House District 38 in western Alaska.

Democrats Jane Angvik and Les Gara are the only candidates running in House District 23, which consists of downtown Anchorage and Fairview.

Democrat incumbent Mary Sattler Kapsner is defending her House seat against former lawmaker Ivan Ivan, of Akiak. Ivan was a Democrat who aligned himself with the Republicans in the House.

Another Democrat who caucuses with the Republican majority is Rep. Richard Foster, of Nome, who is running unopposed for his eighth term in office.

Other partisan matchups include:

-- House District 12, the Valdez and Richardson Highway district, where incumbent Rep. John Harris is attempting to fend off a challenge by Republicans Mike Pearson and Scott Smith.

-- House District 27 where Rep. Norman Rokeberg faces Republican activist Chuck Achberger. Rokeberg had been paired with moderate Republican Andrew Halcro, who quit this year to manage his family's business.

A total of 10 lawmakers are on the primary ballot unopposed this year.

Four-term Rep. Scott Ogan is also running against Joe Caswell in the primary for Senate District H, which became vacant when Senate President Rick Halford announced his retirement. No other party fielded a candidate for that seat.

Division of Elections Director Janet Kowalski said voter turnout is expected to be light despite a controversial ballot initiative that is before voters.

The initiative, if approved, would establish the first statewide instant runoff voting system in the nation. It would not affect the race for governor, which is outlined in the state constitution.

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