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Republicans see success in most Interior Alaska House races

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Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 1:20 am | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Rep. Scott Kawasaki could find himself as the only Democratic member among Fairbanks-region House members following nearly complete results Tuesday. The fate of Rep. David Guttenberg wasn’t known late Tuesday, as results from the far western rural areas of the sprawling district hadn’t come in.

Whether the Fairbanks area has one or two Democrats won’t make a difference in who controls the House, however. Republicans have clear control of the chamber.

District 1

Doug Isaacson will be moving his office from North Pole to Juneau.

The two-term North Pole mayor won a decisive victory Tuesday to represent District 1, claiming 77 percent of the vote in a race against Democrat Janice Golub. District 1 follows the Richardson Highway between North Pole and Salcha.

Isaacson, a Republican, said he believed a campaign focused on issues paid off. He said the areas he emphasized — lower energy costs, maintaining a strong presence at Eielson Air Force Base and keeping the Flint Hills Refinery working — seemed to resonate with voters.

“I kept a positive campaign,” he said. “I talked about what I wanted to do.”

Isaacson won 4,146 votes in the race, not including absentee and questioned ballots. Golub, an Army National Guard major, claimed 1,208 votes, or 22.4 percent of the total.

Golub said she learned a lot during the race, which was her first run for elected office. She said it’s too soon to know what she’ll do next, but wouldn’t rule out another run.

“It’s Alaska politics,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

District 2

In a battle of incumbent House members, Rep. Tammie Wilson defeated Rep. Bob Miller in the race to represent House District 2.

Wilson, a Republican, claimed 3,719 votes, or 51.8 percent, with all precincts in Tuesday night. Miller, a Democrat, won 3,430 votes, 47.8 percent of the total.

Wilson and Miller, who had both finished their first full terms in the House, previously served in neighboring House districts. The redistricting process pushed them both into the newly created House District 2, which roughly follows the areas around and northeast of the Steese Highway and Chena Hot Springs Road.

Wilson couldn’t be reached Tuesday night to discuss the race.

District 3

After a successful freshman year in the Legislature, Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, will be heading back to Juneau for his second term.

Thompson, who worked well across party lines, faced no Democratic opposition for the race.

Thompson, 68, is the former mayor of the city of Fairbanks. During the election season, Thompson stressed a message of cooperation and solidarity for the Interior delegation in order to work on energy relief for Fairbanks.

District 4

In a night that otherwise didn’t go well for Fairbanks Democrats, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, won re-election to his fourth term in the House of Representatives.

Kawasaki took nearly 52 percent of the vote to win District 4, while Republican opponent David Pruhs finished the evening with 47.76 percent of the vote.

There were 5,084 votes cast in House District 4, which covers West Fairbanks. 

Kawasaki, 37, first won election in 2006 and is the second-most senior member of the Interior’s House delegation, after Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg.

On election night at Election Central at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel, Kawasaki said he felt humbled by the turnout and was grateful to people who voted for him despite heavy spending by those trying to oust him.

“It was an exciting election time,” he said. “I was outspent 2 to 1 and it was a real challenge. Ultimately, the voters decided I’ve done enough to warrant my re-election.”

Both candidates had focused on energy relief for the Interior instead of on the headline issue of oil taxes. The candidates agreed on an all-of-the-above path to energy cost relief for the Interior, including support for natural gas trucking, an in-state natural gas pipeline and state funding for major infrastructure projects.

The race was one of the most expensive contests for the House in the entire state. Combined, the two candidates raised well more than $150,000. Tens of thousand of additional dollars were spent by third-party groups on both sides of the aisle.

Reflecting on the other races in the Interior, Kawasaki said redistricting played a huge role in defeating Democrats.

“They wrote districts that would be difficult for Democrats to win,” he said of the Alaska Redistricting Board. “They disenfranchised a lot of independents and a lot of Democrats.”

District 5

Republican Pete Higgins defeated Democrat Dave Watts in a relatively close race for District 5 on Tuesday.

In unofficial numbers, Higgins was ahead of Watts 53.2 percent to 46.3 percent. The district was the first local race with complete results. All precincts had reported by about 10:15 p.m.

Both men were at Election Central at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel on Tuesday night watching results, which were projected onto three screens by the Division of Elections.

Higgins, the owner of Four Corners Dental Group, said he’s hoping his experience in health care will land him a seat, maybe even the chairmanship, of the House Health and Social Services Committee. Another goal would be a seat on the House Resources Committee, he said.

As in so many races this year, political party and the candidates’ stance on oil taxes played a major role in the campaign. Higgins said oil taxes were the biggest difference between him and Watts. Unlike Watts, Higgins said he believes cuts proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell were on the right track to stimulate oil production.

Watts, a former utility worker, said earlier on election night he was happy with the campaign because he said it managed to move the dialogue away from a tax plan that would cut taxes without promising guarantees form the oil industry.

“From my point of view it’s been a success, he said “We’re not hearing anyone anymore praising the governor’s plan as the ideal candidate for Alaska.”

District 5 includes the areas of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks International Airport and the Mitchell Expressway and winds its way out of town along the Tanana River — bypassing North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base — to pick up parts of Salcha, Harding Lake and Birch Lake. Just over 6,100 votes were cast in the race.

District 6

Republican bush pilot Eric Feige won a primary election with a 12-vote margin last election season. This year he’s got more of a cushion.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, unofficial results have Feige ahead of Democratic challenger Jamey Duhamel 72.6 percent to 27.2 percent in the District 6, which represents a region from Delta Junction to Valdez and west into the eastern Mat-Su Borough.

Feige, from Chickaloon, watched the election results from the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage and described the atmosphere as “buoyant” among Republicans, who will retain control of the House and who picked up seats in the Senate, which has been run by a Republican-Democrat coalition.

“We’ll have the opportunity to have bills not only passed out of the House but actually heard in the Senate and maybe actually passed out of the Senate,” he said by telephone after results came in.

Like in many legislative races this year, the two candidates in District 6 were at odds over oil tax reform, with Feige calling for larger cuts and Duhamel advocating for less substantial changes. When the session convenes in January, Feige said he will advocate for a major oil tax reform that is tied to increases in oil production. He said he’s hoping to go back to the House Resources Committee.

District 38

Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg had a significant lead over Republican Rep. Alan Dick in District 38 at press time Tuesday night, but barely a quarter of the votes had been counted in the large rural district.

Guttenberg had 55.8 percent to Dick’s 34.9 percent at about midnight. Dorothy Shockley, a no-party candidate, was at 8.9 percent.

The district combines Ester, part of Goldstream Valley and rural communities extending west to the Bering Sea.

Guttenberg was not prepared to declare victory Tuesday night at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel after the first results arrived. Despite new technology, he said election watchers have less information than they used to because information on the state Division of Elections website does not say which precincts have reported.

“I came here tonight knowing that I wasn’t going to know at the end of the night who won,” he said.

Guttenberg, a former pipeline worker who lives in the Goldstream Valley, is likely to have an edge in the Fairbanks-area precincts. Dick, a teacher and pilot who lives in Nenana is likely to have an edge in the rural part of the district.

Dick could not be reached by telephone on election night, but during the campaign he said he is used to unexpected late results from rural precincts. In 2010 Dick beat Democratic Rep. Woodie Salmon in another large rural district. In that campaign Salmon went to bed behind on election night expecting to come back as he usually did as village votes came in, Dick said.

District 38 is one of the districts formed under the decennial redistricting process and is under legal challenge from residents who say it combines communities that have too little in common. However, it was left as an “interim” district for this election cycle and any possible transformation to the district would not go into effect until 2014.

The district is 41.8 percent bush communities with an additional 20.7 percent of registered voters along the Parks Highway between Fairbanks and Cantwell. During the campaign Dick and Shockley argued they will best represent rural communities. Shockley is a former staffer for Democratic Sen. Al Kookesh, who has lived in Manley Hot Springs and Tanana.

During the campaign all three candidates had similar proposals for state oil taxes and energy prices. However, Guttenberg made an issue of Dick’s “yes” vote on House Bill 110, the governor’s tax cut for oil companies that Democrats called a “$2 billion giveaway” because it lowered taxes without making companies commit to increasing production or investment.

Staff writer Matt Buxton contributed to this report.

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