Liberals get edge in Anchorage elections, massive school bond fails

In Tuesday’s local elections, Anchorage voters gave a boost to the liberal-leaning camp on the city’s Assembly. But they also voted down a controversial change to the municipality’s tax-cap formula, and did not pass a major capital bond for dozens of public schools.

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A John Weddleton supporter holding a sign shortly before the candidate was pronounced the winner in the South Anchorage race. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)
A John Weddleton supporter holding a sign shortly before the candidate was pronounced the winner in the South Anchorage race. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

At the end of the night, as staff clear tables and TV crews pack away their gear, South Anchorage Assembly candidate John Weddleton and his supporters are running through the math on whether or not he’s won. But with just two small precincts left to be counted, Weddleton’s victory appears extremely likely.

“I am excited because I have been frustrated that people who come from a community council background, learn how the city works, get involved with the city really deeply, aren’t winning seats on the Assembly,” he said.

Wheddleton says the race became extremely partisan, and in spite of his focus on policy details he came to viewed as the liberal candidate.

Eric Croft making his victory lap at Election Central. (Hughes/KSKA)
Eric Croft making his victory lap at Election Central. (Hughes/KSKA)

“I don’t identify as a liberal, I like my government simple: small is better, local’s better,” he said.

Whether they identify with it or not, liberal-leaning candidates in four of the five Assembly races beat conservative rivals.

In West Anchorage, former legislator and school board member Eric Croft was elected. Incumbent Dick Traini held onto his Midtown seat. And in East Anchorage, Forrest Dunbar, the former Democratic challenger to Representative Don Young’s House seat, won by a wide margin.

“I’ll go where I’m needed,” Dunbar said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. Obviously the budget and public safety are the two priorities, that’s what our campaign goals were.”

Forrest Dunbar supports march in Election Central as the candidate declares victory. (Hughes/KSKA)
Forrest Dunbar supports march in Election Central as the candidate declares victory. (Hughes/KSKA)

In the Chugiak-Eagle River race, incumbent and former mayoral candidate Amy Demboski held a sizable lead over challenger Nicholas Begich III.

School board incumbent Bettye Davis held on to her seat. But in the second race for school board seat B, the divide between Kay Ellen Schuster and Starr Marsett is too close to call just yet. That race will be decided as the last ballots are tallied in the days ahead.

Turnout in the municipality was low, just 21 percent. For many who did cast ballots, the most controversial issues weren’t the candidates, but the propositions over charter amendments and bonds.

Ned Harshberger voted with his young daughter at the Alaska Zoo, which hosts a polling site in South Anchorage.

“I mean, I hate raisin’ my property taxes, but school bonds, and just seeing schools out there, they’re always hurting, so I did vote yes,” he said.

That puts Harshberger in the minority.

To the surprise of many, the $49 million school bond looks like it will not pass, failing to garner a majority of votes.

In a statement, Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff says he believes “the results show a mix of community support as well as concern and uncertainty regarding the state’s fiscal climate.”

The ‘no’ vote on the school bond is one of two budget kinks the Assembly and Administration will have to iron out in the weeks ahead.

Proposition 8 received the 60 percent of votes necessary for amending the municipal charter, fixing a firmer interpretation of the formula for calculating the city’s tax-cap.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the passage of five other bonds related to roads, parks, and public safety demonstrates the voters’ faith in Anchorage’s economic prospects. But the Prop 8 vote means the Administration will have to adjust its budget.

“We’ll figure something out,” he said. “We always have. We’ll find a way forward.”

The proposal to put a 5 percent tax on retail sales of cannabis products passed with 79 percent support. The city expects revenues from that tax to cover local administrative costs once the new industry opens for business.

21 percent of Anchorage voters went to the polls for Tuesday’s elections, which decided the fate of five Assembly races, two School Board seats, and nine bond proposals. With more than 98% of the precincts reporting, here are the unofficial results as of Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday, the Municipal Clerk’s Office says they’re still calculating more than five thousand absentee ballots.

Returns from those ballots have the potential to change the results in multiple races, including School Board Seat B and the question of whether Girdwood property owners will pick up the cost for police protection when the State Troopers leave the area this summer.

The Clerk’s Office expects to have a better count of the outstanding balance by Thursday. Results won’t be official until they’re certified on April 19.

Candidates

Assembly District 2- Seat A – Chugiak/Eagle River Incumbent and formal mayoral candidate Amy Demboski beat political newcomer Nicholas Begich with 58 percent of the vote.

Assembly District 3 – Seat D – West Anchorage Eric Croft won the four-way race for the seat being vacated by Ernie Hall, who decided not to run for re-election. Croft took 46 percent of the vote.  His conservative opponent Adam Trombley had 34 percent. Ira Perman had 15. Former mayoral candidate Dustin Darden had 5 percent. Croft served both in the state legislature and on the Anchorage School Board.

Assembly District 4 – Seat F – Midtown Anchorage Incumbent Dick Traini beat challenger Ron Alleva by a sizable margin. Traini has served on the Assembly for 17 years, and been chair for 12 of them.

Assembly District 5 – Seat H – East Anchorage Forrest Dunbar beat Terre Gales 61 to 39 percent. Dunbar first entered the political scene in his failed run against Rep. Don Young in 2014. The seat is currently held by Paul Honeman, who decided not to run for re-election.

“I’ll go where I’m needed,” Dunbar said when asked if there were committees or issues he was particularly eager to take up.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. Obviously the budget and public safety are the two priorities, that’s what our campaign goals were.”

Assembly District 6 – Seat J – South Anchorage John Weddleton squeaked out a last minute win in the closest of the Assembly races. He had 43 percent to Treg Taylor’s 41 percent. Mark Schimscheimer had 15 percent. Weddleton owns Bosco’s Comics in Spenard, and has served on the city’s planning and zoning commission in the past.

“I am excited because I have been frustrated that people who come from a community council background, learn how the city works, get involved with the city really deeply, aren’t winning seats on the Assembly,” Weddleton said as final results trickled in at Election Central in the Dena’ina Center.

School Board – Seat A Incumbent and former state senator Bettye Davis beat challenger Brent Hughes by more than 13 percent.

School Board – Seat B As the night ended Kay Schuster, a special education teacher, had a 379 vote lead over realtor Starr Marsett. The race is too close to call. Former teacher David Nees lags behind with less than 30 points. The seat was vacated by Eric Croft.

Ballot Propositions

Prop 1 – Anchorage School District Capital Improvements The $49.2 million bond has failed by 2 points. The money was aimed at capital improvements for dozens of schools across the municipality, including new roofs, security camera upgrades, and replacing 27 school buses.

In an emailed statement, Superintendent Ed Graff said, “We know our community supports public education. I believe the results show a mix of community support as well as concern and uncertainty regarding the state’s fiscal climate.”

Prop 2 – Marijuana Sales Tax The measure to tax marijuana sales at 5 percent passed by a wide margin — 79 to 21 percent.

Prop 3 – Area Safety Capital Improvements This $3 million bond is for things like upgrading the 911 system. It passed 59 to 41.

Prop 4 – Parks & Recreations Capital Improvements – The $3.3 million bond to upgrade city parks and trails, including Campbell Creek Trail, passed by more than 6 points.

Prop 5 – ARDSA Storm and Drainage Voters passed this $36.6 million bond which improves roads and drainages through out the city and revamps Spenard Road.

Prop 6 – Fire Protection This $1 million bond blazed through with 61 percent of the vote. It’s mostly going toward buying a new fire engine.

Prop 7 – Police Facilities The police department will get $3.8 million for facility improvements thanks to a vote of 53 percent in favor.

Prop 8 – Tax Increase Limit This political proposition received the 60 percent it needed to pass. It reverts the tax cap formula back to a previous version.

Prop 9 – Girdwood Police Protection The initiative provides police protection for the community at the expense of property owners in the Girdwood Valley Service Area. At 11 p.m. Tuesday, it’s too close to call. There are only four more ‘No’ votes.

Girdwood property owners would pay 1.18 mils additional to the current Muni mil rate to pay for community law enforcement, if the measure should gain voter approval. The additional cost to the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would be $118 a year in the Girdwood Valley Service Area.

The police protection starts on July 1 of this year, if the ballot initiative passes. The means of providing protection is up to the Girdwood Board of Supervisors.