Republicans retain control of state Senate, despite loss of 2 seats

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE -- Republicans held on to a majority in the state Senate on Tuesday but two familiar faces were sent packing.

Anchorage Sen. Dave Donley, co-chair of the powerful Finance Committee, was upset by Democrat Hollis French. Nikiski Sen. Jerry Ward was defeated by Republican Moderate Tom Wagoner.

With four of 22 precincts of a Fairbanks Senate district, car dealer Ralph Seekins, a Republican, claimed victory over state Rep. John Davies, a Democrat. He led by 718 votes.

Seekins' victory gave Repub-licans 11 seats, Republican Moder-ates one and Democrats eight. Republicans held a 14-6 majority in the Senate last session.

In one of the closest races of the night, Rep. Gretchen Guess, a Democrat, held an 88-vote lead for a vacant Senate seat in East Anchorage over tourism businessman Tim Worthen.

The GOP started Election Night with four Senate seats in hand. Robin Taylor of Wrangell did not face re-election. Incumbents Alan Austerman of Kodiak and Ben Stevens of South Anchorage ran unopposed. Republican Scott Ogan ran unopposed after the primary.

Other Republican incumbents won easily.

Gene Therriault of North Pole defeated Alaskan Independence Party member Trac Copher of Sutton, Lyda Green of Wasilla defeated Democrat James Della Silva and Gary Wilken defeated Mike Waleri.

Two Republican state representatives won promotions to the Senate. Fred Dyson of Eagle River defeated Democrat Roberta Goughnour to win a seat vacated by Senate President Rick Halford. Con Bunde of Anchorage defeated Mitch Schapira to claim an open seat.

In a race covering Spenard and other parts of West Anchorage that turned bitter in its final days, French credited his organization and a team of 100 volunteers knocking on doors for putting him over the top.

Donley tried to make French's claim of military service an issue. French listed his service as ''USMC (ROTC) 1977-1978,'' which he later explained was six weeks training at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base.

French said most people saw his military record as a non-issue and he never tried to make it out as anything more or less than was stated in the pamphlet.

As for why voters picked him, ''It's a choice of politics of the last 10 years versus politics of the future,'' French said.

The Seekins-Davies campaign was one of the most expensive ever in the Interior. Both raised more than $100,000 and Seekins kicked in $20,000 of his own money.

Seekins pounded Davies for his support of a fiscal plan that included new taxes. He contended that Davies advocated a spending plan that would cost families of four nearly $3,500.

Seekins told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that his ideas for economic development were the main catalyst for his victory.

''I think people looking for jobs for themselves and jobs for their grandchildren is what made the difference,'' Seekins said.

Democrats started Election Day with two seats. Sen. Bettye Davis of Anchorage and Donny Olson of Nome did not face re-election.

Juneau Democrat Kim Elton fought off an upset bid by Cathy Munoz, who hoped to be the first Republican senator in Juneau since her father, Elton Engstrom Jr., was defeated in 1970 by Bill Ray.

Anchorage Sen. Johnny Ellis, the Senate minority leader, turned back a challenge by Republican Harold Heinze, a former commissioner of Natural Resources.

Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel defeated Willy Keppel and Democrat Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart defeated Mac Carter of Central.

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