Emil and Sandra Wilson share a voting booth at Kenai Precinct 1 Tuesday as their children Samiel, Julianne and Andrew wait nearby. Voting was heavy and steady throughout the day, according to elections workers.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
There were no surprises Tuesday night after the polls closed on the Kenai Peninsula, as Republican incumbents retained their seats in the Alaska Legislature fairly handily, while in the only contest between nonincumbents, the GOP candidate won.
Individual precinct results were not available by late Tuesday night, so no details were available on how candidates fared in various locations, but the overall effect was predictable.
For instance, Senate District Q incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, easily defeated independent candidate Robert Merchant, also of Kenai, as expected, by a margin of almost four to one. Republican incumbent Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski also won his race for the House District 34 (Nikiski-Sterling) race, as did Republican Kurt Olson for the House District 33 (Kenai-Soldotna) seat.
Wagoner, who was first elected in 2003, rode a fiscally conservative platform, support for an all-Alaska gas pipeline, and a history of working for education funding to victory, garnering 9,235 votes to Merchant's 2,673.
Wagoner could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Merchant also could not be reached. His wife, Jo Ann, however, said Merchant felt like he ran as strong a campaign as possible. In fact, Merchant didn't find out until this morning that he'd lost the race, as the campaign apparently had taken a lot out of him. By the time election results were announced, his wife said he was already in bed.
"He's had a long day today," she said.
Merchant wasn't the only one who had a long day. Kenai-Soldotna residents had to wait long into the night to find out election results due to a major power outage on the central peninsula that began just as election results were beginning to trickle in. (See story above.)
The outage didn't stop Republican Kurt Olson of Soldotna from celebrating his win over Hal Smalley. With all six precincts reporting, Olson garnered 3,134 votes to Smalley's 2,171.
After finding out the results, Olson prepared to board a plane for Anchorage to meet with his fellow Republicans to plan strategy for the upcoming session.
"It's time to get down to work," he said.
Olson was making his first run at a state House position this year, be he's far from a political newcomer. He's a former Soldotna City Council member, and has worked on the staffs of both Wagoner and Sen. John Torgerson in Juneau.
He said Tuesday at the Kenai Airport that he also believes that going to Juneau with Chenault and Wagoner will be a positive for the peninsula.
"I've known Mike and Tom for 22 years and worked with both of them, so that will be good for the peninsula," he said.
Olson said he believes the biggest issue facing the Legislature will be finding a way to curb government spending and said he believes that despite a current budget surplus, the state still needs to look at limiting spending.
"I still think we need a spending cap," he said. "We went through this (surplus) 20 years ago, and we don't need to repeat our past mistakes."
Olson said he doesn't believe the Legislature will need to cut spending, but that the state does need to address its spending priorities.
"I think we need to just step back and look at some things," he said.
For Smalley, a retired educator, it was his second attempt in two years to return to the Alaska House where he'd served from 1999 through 2001. Repeated calls to Smalley on Tuesday night resulted in busy signals, likely owing to the power outage.
Incumbent Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, easily won re-election to the seat from House District 34, defeating independent Glen F. Martin, of Sterling, 4,460 to 1,708.
Chenault said Tuesday night that he believes the voters sent a strong message that he's been doing a good job representing the Nikiski and Sterling areas in Juneau.
"I think it says good things about the work I've been doing," Chenault said.
Chenault pointed to his accomplishments during the previous session, including an increase in education funding, as reasons why voters felt he was still the right person to represent them in the senate.
"I think with the work we accomplished with pipelines, with road projects, with other capital projects and getting more funding for education, I think the voters are pleased with what I've been doing," he said.
Martin said he thought challenging Chenault for the senate seat would be a good way to bring a fresh perspective to the race.
"I thought it was important to get some different things going," he said.
Martin said he believes he accomplished that goal during his campaign, and said he will likely be back for a future try at politics.
"I thought it was fun," he said.
Martin said he believed someone needed to stand up for some segments of the population and economic sector not normally represented in Juneau.
"You've got fishing, technology, media, so many factions, and the reality is they're not being represented well," he said. "I think I would bring more of a diversity to representing this area."
Chenault said that, like Olson, he believes going back to Juneau as part of a strong Republican group of legislators from the peninsula will give him a lot of clout to work on two key issues he feels are most important education funding and getting North Slope natural gas to the peninsula.
"I think we're going to have a strong working relationship," he said.
On the lower peninsula, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, appeared to be beating challenger Mike Yourkowski, a Democrat and sitting Homer City Council member. By around 11 p.m., however, only 15 of the 25 precincts in District R had been counted. All of the uncounted votes were from Kodiak Island, including six villages where results are typically a bit slow to come in. Stevens, a resident of the island and former mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough and Kodiak City, was expected to poll well there.
Stevens said late Tuesday that he did not know why the island results were delayed, but was pleased that he was holding a sizable lead at 6,293 to 4,211.
Yourkowski had worked hard to paint Stevens as a political clone of Gov. Frank Murkowski, who appointed Stevens from a House seat in 2002 to fill a vacancy in the Senate when Sen. Alan Austerman left to take a job in the Murkowski administration. Stevens said he'd never been in a political contest like it before.
"It was a hard campaign," he said. "I'm glad that we stayed on point on the issues and kept it as positive as possible."
Stevens called the voter turnout "tremendous."
"We are little disappointed. I thought it would be closer," Yourkowski said late Tuesday. "What can we say? We did the best we could, but we started at a great disadvantage."
Indeed, while Yourkowski was well known in Homer, he had less name recognition and less funding, he said, than did Stevens. Yourkowski has another year on his city council term. Asked if he would consider another run for state office, he said he doubted it at this point.
"I have a lot of things to think about," he said.
Stevens said he was looking forward to the next Legislature.
"It could be an enormously exciting two years," he said. "We will have more money because of the high oil prices. Perhaps we can repair some things that were hurt by budget cuts. I'd like to help out the communities with revenue sharing. That's really needed. Perhaps help the communities with the costs of employee retirement, and put some money back into the Constitutional Budget Reserve."
Stevens also pointed to the ongoing talks with gas producers that could lead to some kind of contract regarding state participation in the ownership of a gas pipeline.
"The people will weigh in on that," he said.
Stevens said he wasn't going to rush into anything, but if the numbers worked out, some level of ownership might be worth considering. He said, however, he would not support using the permanent fund as a source of investment funds.
In House District 35, which includes Homer, Seward, and Cooper Landing, as well as the communities on the south side of Kachemak Bay, incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, easily retained his seat in a four-way race against Democrat Deb Germano, who is the current president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, independent candidate Mike Heimbuch of Homer and Cooper Landing resident Ed Martin Jr., a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.
With all 11 precincts reporting, Seaton tallied 3,109 votes to Germano's 1,887, Heimbuch's 1,101 and Martin's 233.
Seaton said it was good to win and nice to have the campaigning come to an end.
"I guess it was a pretty issues-driven campaign on my part and on the parts of the other candidates and I really appreciated that," he said. "I know some of the other races around weren't that way. I think the issues were covered pretty well."
Seaton said he expected the House to remain a Republican-majority body, but added it would be a while before leadership positions were decided. The majority caucus is expected to meet in Anchorage on Thursday, Seaton said.
"The bottom line here is that it's fine," Germano said Tuesday night after the results were clear and she'd finished a distant second. "Sure I'm disappointed. I would have loved to have had that seat and served the district and Alaska."
Germano still has two years remaining of her school board term and said she will again focus her energies there.
"I will keep on working on things that I view as important. I have plenty of work to do," she said.
Her campaign went generally well, she said, but she added that she regretted there had been so few public forums for debate, at least compared to some other House districts in the state.
Heimbuch congratulated Seaton on his victory and wished him well in the next Legislature. Beyond that, he said he had no comment.
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