Many legislative races remain unchallenged

With the filing period nearly over, more than a third of the legislative seats on this year’s ballot remain unchallenged. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Friday (June 1) to submit their paperwork to the state Division of Elections.

Fifty-nine seats – 40 in the House and 19 in the Senate –are up for grabs in the August primary and November general election. It’s a larger-than-usual number because reapportionment requires elections in all but one district.

But so far, the state elections website shows only 37 races with more than one candidate. The other 22 seats are unchallenged, meaning the person running will almost certainly win. (See the list of filed candidates on the state elections website.)

Retired Juneau lawmaker Mike Miller says the small number of candidates is surprising. He says it wasn’t that way in the past.

Miller served 16 years in the state House during the 1970’s and 80’s. That means he won eight elections.

“Maybe politicians just have a bad name these days and people don’t want to do it. Although I can’t imagine that, because in Alaska, I’ve always been proud to serve with members of both parties,” Miller says.

The single-candidate contests are spread throughout the state. Eight of 19 Senate seats are unchallenged. So are 14 of 40 House races.

Candidate numbers have grown since earlier this week, when almost half of the races were unchallenged.

Three of Southeast’s four House districts have only one person on the ballot.

The region’s sole Senate race has two candidates running. Its second Senate seat is not on the ballot because it saw few redistricting changes.

Most of the open seats are held by incumbents, and many have a strong hold on their districts.

“The seats that are pretty safe, people just don’t contest them because it costs money, although not a lot of money in Alaska, compared to a place like California or even a place like Indiana,” says Clive Thomas, a retired University of Alaska Southeast political science professor.

The author of an Alaska politics and policy book says plenty of earlier elections have seen uncontested races.

“I guess it’s hard to round up somebody because campaigning takes a lot of energy out of somebody, and I guess there’s the big deflation when you lose,” Thomas says.

Republicans make up the majority of single-candidate races. They have 15 uncontested seats, while Democrats have only 7.

Thomas wonders whether people feel much need to challenge incumbents.

“Most people in Alaska I would figure are very satisfied. There’s a lot of money around in Alaska. We’re one of the very few states … that hasn’t cut its budget. Those people who follow California or read about it … will notice it’s going through amazing problems. In Alaska, we have large capital budget this year. Alaska’s in the chips, you might say, and that may affect the way that people may feel about challenging or not challenging,” he says.

Some of the challenged candidates face no opposition in the August party primaries. They’ll face off with another party’s nominee in the November general election.

Unchallenged Southeast races are in districts held by Haines Republican Bill Thomas, Juneau Republican Cathy Munoz and Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula. All now serve in the House of Representatives.

Two incumbents, Angoon Democrat Albert Kookesh and Sitka Republican Bert Stedman, are running for the lone Southeast Senate seat on the ballot. Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan does not have to run this year.

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