Gov. Mike Dunleavy after his 2018 election

Gov. Mike Dunleavy waves to supporters after his 2018 victory. In 2022, he faces a challenge from former Gov. Bill Walker in an increasingly crowded race for the state’s top elective office. News-Miner phot

The 2022 election year in Alaska is shaping up like no other – with a new voting system, a former governor challenging the sitting governor and Donald Trump intervening in political races.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s primary opponents include Bill Walker, the independent governor he replaced, as well as former Democratic lawmaker Les Gara, Republican state Rep. Chris Kurka and Libertarian Billy Toien.

The 2022 elections will be the first time Alaskans cast their ballots by ranked choice, listing candidates in order of preference. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on a single primary ballot in August. The top four vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.

“We now have an electoral system that lives up to Alaska’s independent streak by saying ‘to hell with politics let’s do what’s right for Alaska,’” said Shea Siegert, an organizer, after voters adopted ranked-choice voting in 2020.

Political analysts say that ranked-choice voting in Alaska’s primary means less certainty about the final outcome in November’s general election.

“I think the governor’s race will be closer than it would be otherwise with ranked-choice voting,’’ said former Democratic lawmaker John Davies.

Ranked-choice voting in 2022 gets its first real test in Alaska’s primary, and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s reelection bid is at center stage after Trump vowed to defeat her.

Trump has sought revenge against the Alaska U.S. senator for her vote to impeach him after last year’s attack on the nation’s Capital. Of the seven Republican U.S. senators who voted to convict the former president, Murkowski is the only one up for reelection.

Trump has endorsed Kelly Tshibaka, an attorney and former state commissioner.

Political observers in Alaska question how much influence Trump will have in a state known to value its independence. “My sense is that people in Alaska are probably going to disregard Trump,” Davies said.

John Coghill, a former Republican state lawmaker, agrees. “I like Trump, but he has divided people, and some people in Alaska may not appreciate his involvement in Alaska,” said Coghill, a Tshibaka supporter.

Trump is not deterred. The latest salvo came this month when the former president announced he would back Dunleavy as long as the governor does not support Murkowski.

“If Mike endorses her, which is his prerogative, my endorsement of him is null and void, and of no further force or effect!” Trump said in a written statement.

Save America, the leadership PAC Trump started, published a response attributed to Dunleavy: “Please tell the President thank you for the endorsement. With regard to the other issue, please tell the President he has nothing to worry about.”

Yet Coghill, a Trump supporter, said he does not see the former president wielding a lot of influence in the governor’s race either.

Voters will cast their ballots based on how the candidates respond to issues important to Alaska, he said. And Coghill is concerned about Dunleavy’s management of the state’s finances.

“Personally, I am disappointed in Dunleavy,” said Coghill, a conservative.“My disappointment revolves around how the governor has managed the state treasury. He has made the Permanent Fund dividend the entrance point to support him.

“We are at the place where we can use the Permanent Fund earnings to undergird the cost of government, but we cannot do that and pay out the level of dividend that the governor wants to pay out,” Coghill said. “We are turning many of our affairs over to the federal treasury and that makes us more dependent on the feds for money.”

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or at lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.

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