JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s Republican Senate president lost her primary and other Republican lawmakers, some leaders in the bipartisan House majority, trailed in races too close to call with absentee ballots yet to be counted from Tuesday’s election.
Some political observers see the early results in Republican primaries as a message to lawmakers, like Senate President Cathy Giessel, who worked across party lines. Reps. Jennifer Johnston and Chuck Kopp of Anchorage, who were among the Republicans who joined Democrats and independents to form a bipartisan House majority last year, were behind in their races. State election officials plan to start counting absentee ballots next Tuesday.
“I think the major takeaway is coalition politics are dead in Alaska for a while. That will be the lesson every Republican heard,” political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt said.
Several minority Republicans were lagging, too, including Reps. Mark Neuman of Big Lake, who was first elected to the House in 2004, and Sharon Jackson of Eagle River, in her first term. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, a Republican not in either caucus, also trails. The state has accused LeDoux of voter misconduct and interference with voting related to elections in 2014 and 2018. She has said she is innocent.
Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, a minority Republican criticized by members of his party as alienating and divisive, led challenger Jesse Sumner, a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly.
Rep. Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat who co-chairs the powerful House Finance Committee with Johnston, held a narrow lead in his race.
On the Senate side, incumbents Natasha von Imhof of Anchorage and John Coghill of North Pole, who hold leadership positions in the GOP-led Senate majority, were among those trailing.
Giessel lost to Roger Holland, a former state transportation department employee who criticized Giessel’s leadership style and disagreed with her on issues like the size of the check paid to residents from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund.
Giessel, who is from Anchorage and was first elected to the Senate in 2010, said she had no comment Wednesday. Lottsfeldt described Giessel as a conservative and “textbook Republican, and yet that wasn’t good enough” for primary voters.
Brad Keithley, who through Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets advocates for what he sees as responsible state fiscal policies, said he thinks voters want a different direction. But he said that doesn’t change the fact the state faces a budget deficit that needs to be addressed. Should candidates who align more closely with Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy ultimately prevail, it will be up to the governor to come up with an achievable, balanced plan, he said.
Dunleavy faces an ongoing recall effort that was fueled by public anger budget cuts he proposed last year.
Over the last two years, Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent, pushed back against Dunleavy on what they saw as separation of powers issues, such as a special session location, and cuts they saw as too deep.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said he is waiting to see the results from the absentee count. He credited Giessel with her willingness to work with his minority caucus.
“I think that’s what Alaskans expect from their … leaders and I think that in the long run, that’s what Alaskans will vote for and support. And if I’m wrong, then I’m not sure what Alaska has become,” he said.