FAIRBANKS — Democrat Bob Miller upset Fairbanks Republican Rep. Mike Kelly on Tuesday, defeating the three-term legislator from District 7 by 9 percentage points.
An unknown number of questioned and absentee ballots must still be counted, but with all precincts reporting, Miller led Kelly 4,283 to 3,576.
Kelly barely won re-election two years ago to the sprawling district, which runs from well north up the Steese Highway and out Chena Hot Springs Road, across the top of Fairbanks north to Fox and far to the west of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
The race had become a referendum on Kelly’s tenure in Juneau, with unions and a constituent group spending the month of October, and tens of thousands of dollars, attacking his social positions and policy record.
The exchanges between Miller and Kelly, however, remained civil. Miller said earlier Tuesday that, if he were to win, it could be partly a factor of his focus on local issues versus Kelly’s references to national Democratic agendas.
Kelly again on Tuesday said the criticism was unfounded, saying he had received support from many union members even as their leaders campaigned against him.
“I think there’s a lot of concern among the (union) hands about the nation and the state,” he said.
Miller, an actor, musician and former TV anchorman, had promised to focus on energy policies if he replaces Kelly. He challenged incumbents this fall to better help Alaska compete with Scandanavian countries that foster development of green energy technology suited for northern climates.
Kelly had pushed the state to open resource development through major investments, including a new road to western Alaska. His voting record, particularly on benefits for state workers, had created some enemies — opponents cited past votes and public comments as exhibiting signs of misogyny and an urban bias. And a union-led political group attacked his support for a shift away from pension-style public retirement frameworks, a change meant to address a multibillion-dollar retirement liability at the state.
Some voters explained their votes on Tuesday when asked at polling locations.
Bookkeeper Mari Ann Moran said she voted for Miller.
“I have voted for Kelly before,” she said, voting outside the Bentley Mall. “I don’t see anything he was going to do getting done. I don’t think he’s really interested in Fairbanks and making a difference here.”
Magazine vendor Bill Smith voted for Kelly out of party loyalty, but his wife, Trish, voted for Miller, saying she doesn’t think Kelly stands firm against domestic violence.
This year Kelly, first elected in 2004 after a long career with Golden Valley Electric Association, cited concerns with the economy — and in particular falling real personal incomes — as a chief reason for his fourth run.
Contact staff writer Chris Eshleman at 459-7582.