Partisan voters pick candidates for November election

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Republican vying to be the next Speaker of the House squeaked out a narrow win while a four-term incumbent lawmaker notable as much for missing work as she is for running the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race cruised to a primary victory in the statewide primary on Tuesday.

Incumbent Rep. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican vying to become the next House Speaker, defeated newcomer Nancy Dahlstrom by 21 votes in Tuesday's primary race.

Murkowski faces no opponent in the general election so is virtually assured a win in November. But for many lawmakers, the difficult fight for re-election is just beginning.

''This is August, it's not November and I think there's a lot of road ahead of us,'' said House Majority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat who was unopposed in Tuesday's primary.

Berkowitz faces the winner of the Republican primary for House District 26 between Steve Strait and Becky Gay. With all the precincts in, the two were separated by two votes and the race remained too close to call.

State Division of Elections spokeswoman Virginia Breeze said absentee votes will be tallied on Sept. 6 along with questioned ballots. Results from the primary election are expected to be final Sept. 18, Breeze said.

Berkowitz also faces Libertarian Gordon Hartlieb.

Moderate Republicans appeared to have fared the worst in the state's first closed primary since 1967. The Legislature eliminated its Blanket Primary last year after a court ruling. The change was opposed by Democrats.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James lost her re-election bid against conservative Rep. John Coghill for House District 11 in North Pole. That was the only matchup that remained after redistricting. Rep. Drew Scalzi, a moderate Republican from Homer who was involved in a bipartisan caucus that sought new taxes and revenue measures to close the state's budget deficit, had lost to opponent Paul Seaton.

Berkowitz said he is hopeful that the large block of nonpartisan voters will turn up at the polls in November to help Democrats win key seats.

''I think the extremists exacted a price on people that wanted to do the right thing. The general public still has the opportunity to come back to the center in November,'' Berkowitz said.

Rep. Beverly Masek, a conservative Republican from Willow who garnered headlines for her absenteeism, fended off a primary fight from former Matanuska-Susitna Borough assemblyman Doyle Holmes.

Masek's Democrat opponent in November, Kay Bills, is eager to make Masek's record a campaign issue. Alaskan Independence Party candidate Jon Pinard is also on the ballot.

Masek, who gained notoriety when first elected in 1994 for having competed in five Iditarod dog sled races, missed 45 legislative days during her last two-year term. Masek was also criticized for not campaigning in her district until just three weeks before Tuesday's vote.

Masek could not be reached for comment on election night. But Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, who backed Masek during her campaign and who is also vying for House Speaker, said her appeal remains strong.

Masek won nearly 55 percent of the vote in her district over Holmes, who has run against her in past races.

''Bev can't do much wrong up there,'' Kott said. ''I know there was some talk she was going to be defeated, but when it's all said and done I think she's got a distinct following.''

Other incumbents appeared to weather bad press much better with voters than did those who cast controversial votes in the last session of the Legislature.

Republican Sen. Jerry Ward emerged from a three-way race for Senate District Q in the Kenai Peninsula despite a voter complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission that questioned his residency status.

Voter registration records show Ward moved from a $235,900 house in Anchorage to a 3-bedroom trailer in Nikiski in time to seek the Senate District Q seat. Ward also partially funded his campaign using $10,000 of his own money.

Ward faces Democrat Patrick Hawkins, Republican Moderate Tom Wagoner and Green Party candidate Thomas Stroman in November.

Ward was one of 20 Republican incumbents who had faced the prospect of running against each other under new legislative boundaries drawn up by the Alaska Redistricting Board.

Republican Rep. Vic Kohring, who faced a residency complaint, was unchallenged for the Republican seat to House District 14. Kohring moved in with his parents in Wasilla to avoid a primary battle with Masek after new legislative boundaries were drawn.

Kohring, a conservative Republican, faces Marci Schmidt of the Alaskan Independence Party and nonpartisan candidates Peter Burchell and Linda Anderson in November.

Because of changes in the state's legislative boundaries, all but three of the 60 seats in the Legislature are on the November ballot. In a normal election year, half of the 20 Senate seats are on the ballot.

The GOP took control of the Legislature in 1994 following a new legislative map created after the 1990 census. Changes in the map under the 2000 census was expected to erode the Republican's hold on the Legislature.

The November election for Senate District M in Anchorage between incumbent Republican Dave Donley and Democrat Hollis French and Senate District J with Democrat Gretchen Guess and Tim Worthen are expected to be close.

''In the House, we are going to see a couple of casualties, but all in all we will still be right there in the Majority,'' said Kott.

Eighteen incumbents in the Legislature face no challengers in November and eight of those won primary fights Tuesday night.

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