Southeast Alaskans heading to the polls Tuesday will find few legislative candidates on their ballots. That’s because the region’s four House and two Senate districts have no primary contests. Two retired lawmakers provide some perspective on the situation.
While Southeast has six legislative districts, only three are in contention this year.
“I think that’s because people talk to each other a lot more in our communities in Southeast,” said Beth Kerttula, a former Juneau representative.
“Candidates will talk to each other. And a lot of times, people will support each other instead of fighting with each other or running against each other,” she said.
Another quiet race is the Senate seat for central and southern Southeast. Incumbent Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican, is unopposed.
There are a number of reasons for the small number of challengers.
Former Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson said some would-be primary candidates can’t make the commitment.
“You campaign hard for three months in the primary and as soon as the primary’s over, then you’re campaigning hard again for the general. So it’s six months of intense work,” she said.
Wilson didn’t seek re-election two years ago. Voters chose Ketchikan’s Dan Ortiz, an independent, to fill the seat.
Ortiz isn’t on the primary ballot because he’s not a member of any party.
Ketchikan’s Bob Sivertsen is on the district’s Republican ballot with no in-party opposition. He, Ortiz and Constitution Party member Kenneth Shaw will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.
Former legislator Kerttula said in her experience, a quiet primary doesn’t stop campaigning.
“I know the candidates right now who don’t have primaries are still out going door to door. Because it gives you maybe an opportunity to have a more in-depth and less stressful conversation with people. And that’s just hugely beneficial for everyone,” she said.
Two Southeast House races are more traditional, with an incumbent challenged by a member of the opposing party.
In Sitka, incumbent Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is being challenged by Republican Sheila Finkenbinder. The district also includes Petersburg, Hoonah, Pelican, Angoon and Kake.
And in Juneau, incumbent Mendenhall Valley Republican Cathy Muñoz faces Democrat Justin Parish.
That’s five of Southeast’s legislative districts. The sixth is held by Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat in the middle of a four-year term.
Former lawmaker Wilson said despite the lack of contests, people should still go to the polls.
“I tell everybody, ‘It’s so important to vote. It’s such a privilege to vote.’ A lot of people say, ‘Oh, my vote doesn’t count anyway.’ But our votes do count,” she said.
There is some action on this year’s primary ballot. Both the U.S. House and Senate races have interparty contests.