Wilson upsets Gattis for state Senate seat

In the fallout from the state’s primary elections, seven legislative incumbents have lost their seats. How this will change the course of the next session has yet to be seen. Representative Lynn Gattis lost her bid for a Senate seat to a relatively unknown from Wasilla.

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It’s a breezy afternoon on the main street of Palmer, in the heart of the Matanuska Valley. Wasilla city councilman David Wilson is heading to a Municipal League meeting, but takes time to answer a few questions about his winning bid for the Senate D seat vacated by Charlie Huggins at the end of this year’s legislative session.

” It’s an overwhelming feeling.. just sinking in right now,” Wilson said.

Wilson did what the pundits said was not possible. Running on a shoestring and with little or no help from the Republican Party of Alaska, Wilson beat a long time Republican incumbent in this week’s primary election. How?

“Door-knocking, phone calling, and I think that they just wanted a different individual, a different type of individual to serve,” Wilson said. “Something different that the status quo that they’ve had in recent years.”

The Republican Party did not back Wilson financially, nor did it assist his campaign.

“Most folks were nice, but there wasn’t a lot of ‘here let me come and help you with this, let me door-knock with you, let me put signs up with you,” Wilson said. “But for the most part, for the sort of Old Guard, except for a couple of individuals, they were less helpful.”

And it is the old guard that may be most taken aback by Wilson’s win. They expected Huggins’s powerful presence in the Senate to be filled by Representative Lynn Gattis, who has a similar adherence to Republican values regarding fiscal and social issues. Wilson describes himself as a conservative, and is backed by the ultra- conservative Republican Assembly, which also endorsed Representative Lora Reinbold. That could set him apart in Juneau political consultant Marc Hellenthal said.

“I think he was successful beating Gattis, because he went door to door and, in a sense, earned the respect of the individual voters one by one, and Gattis didn’t,” Hellenthal said. “And that was enough, and a small turnout, to get him elected. Now, when he is in Juneau, he’s going to have to earn the respect of his colleagues to become respected and to get a position of power.”

Wilson, on the other hand, said he is motivated by a need to help others, and is a proponent of strong family values. Wilson said he came to public service through volunteer work at several organizations. He now directs a non profit that helps domestic violence victims. He said he’s confident that he can do things differently.

Obviously I didn’t go out and raise the $50,000-$100,000 that many people said I needed to raise to be a successful candidate,” Wilson said. “Nor did I have an army of campaign staff or major endorsements from a lot of big entities.”

He ran his campaign on about $13,000.. most of it his own money.

Wilson is 35 years old, has degrees in psychology, education and business, and, because he has no opponent in the general election, will go strait to Juneau in January to become the first African American from the Mat-Su in the legislature.

In other Valley upsets, House 10 incumbent Wes Keller was ousted by newcomer David Eastman, while challenger George Rauscher defeated House 9 incumbent Jim Colver.

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APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone. Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen