Republican Dan Sullivan appears to be Alaska’s next US Senator. The former Attorney General and Natural Resources Commissioner was up 8-thousand votes with all precincts reporting. The Kuskokwim Delta, however, came out for the Democrat Mark Begich, with 70 percent Bethel voters supporting Begich to Sullivan’s 25 percent.
Bethel voters were split on the vote to legalize the possession and use of marijuana, with 52 percent voting against legalization, and 48 percent for the ballot measure. It passed statewide with those percentages flipped: 52 percent for, and 48 percent against. Bethel resident Cheryl Reagan opposed legalization Tuesday.
“It’s just ruins people’s lives, it takes their initiative, it takes away their will to do anything,” said Reagan.
Voters in communities surrounding Bethel were more opposed to the measure, with 57 percent voting no. Bethel’s Gary Vanasse says he agonized over his vote to support legalization.
“I believe there will be a lot of growing pains if it were to pass, there will be a lot of issues probably lasting as long as five years. But I believe as a society we’re probably mature enough to work through those issues,” said Vanasse.
63 percent of Bethel voters supported Independent Bill Walker and Byron Mallott, who were leading a close race with incumbent Sean Parnell, a Republican, and running mate Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Just over 3-thousand votes separate Walker from Parnell.
Jean Simon came out in support of the independent ticket.
“I voted for the Walker/Mallott ticket because Byron Mallott is an Alaskan Native and he will understand our way of life and our subsistence issues,” said Simon.
Ballot measure three passed by a large margin statewide and in Bethel, where 85 percent of voters chose to raise the minimum wage to 8-dollars, 75-cents next year and 9-dollars, 75-cents in 2016.
Bethel’s Gertrude Peter says having a good wage is important for the state.
“With the cost of living out here, in rural Alaska versus urban, definitely a minimum wage for the young generations. I fear for their future. As long as they can make a comeback from whatever situation they’re in and make a positive comeback, I feel with the cost of living, they do need a higher pay rate across the state,” said Peter.
Bethel supported more controls on large mining projects as 68-percent of voters agreed with the majority of the state that the Alaska Legislature should have to explicitly approve metal sulfide mines in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. Deborah Samson spoke in support of fish.
“This is one of the few last places where have the opportunity to live off the land, live off the fisher, were are fish eaters, and not only us, the world depends on us, on our fish as well,” said Samson.
For the statehouse races, Alaska Senator Lyman Hoffman and House Representative Bob Herron both cruised to reelection. Representative Bryce Edgemon, who represents the upper Kuskokwim along with Bristol Bay also was unopposed.
42 percent of voters in District 38 came to the polls. Bethel election officials still must count 253 questioned and special needs ballots, plus a stack of 218 early votes. Statewide, there are more than 22–thousand absentee votes to count, and thousands more questioned ballots.