What's the matter with Fairbanks? - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, June 7, 2020
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What’s the matter with Fairbanks?

IS GOLDEN HEART CITY TURNING BLUE?

With the Senate Seat A flipping to Democrat Scott Kawasaki, Alaska conservatives are asking if Fairbanks has gone the way of downtown Anchorage. Has it become a left-leaning northern haven that voted into the Senate a guy whose most notable act in the House of Representatives was sticking his tongue out at the House Speaker?

A review of history says no. Something has changed, however, in the past decade.

The military personnel in the area hold the key to who gets elected. That community has grown and will continue to grow.

With 5,108 soldiers currently stationed at Fort Wainwright, and 2,000 at Eielson Air Force Base, the military community — with its additional civilian workforce and family dependents — defines much about the Golden Heart City.

The area leans right in its heart, and patriotism runs deep. But the military community simply doesn’t turn out to vote except in a presidential election year.

The other definer of the city is the University of Alaska Fairbanks community. It tacks deeply the other way, toward Democrats and more government spending.

In 2014, Senate Seat A was changed during redistricting, and it was placed on a midterm election cycle, rather than a presidential election cycle. Without military voters, the district is on the bubble, as this election shows.

In 2012, Republican Pete Kelly beat Democrat Joe Paskvan for what was then Senate Seat B. Kelly won 54 to 45 percent of the vote.

After redistricting, Kelly had to run for the seat again in 2014, rather than the usual four year term. He won with 61 percent against a little-known Democrat.

Some 11,517 voters cast ballots in 2012, and only 8,926 in 2014 for the Senate seat. Why?

There was a presidential choice on the ballot in 2012.

Fast forward to 2018, when again only 8,120 people voted in the Senate Seat A race.

The military stayed home. But by now, Democrats had a candidate in Scott Kawasaki, who had served the more liberal-leaning half of the district in the House for more than a decade. Kawasaki’s tongue-gate rebuke was far in the past and he’d been sending out birthday cards to everyone in his district for years.

District 1, which trends toward university voters, would turn out for him, and District 2, where more military people live, could be counted on to stay home.

It was an expensive race, costing more than a half million dollars, between the candidates’ coffers and the independent groups that supported them. Still, a well-known Democrat is only winning the seat with 173 votes.

Kawasaki, not including union-fueled political action committees, raised and spent about $210,000 on his campaign. Kelly raised nearly $188,000, some $22,000 less than Kawasaki.

CAN DEMOCRATS HOLD THE SEAT?

Senate Seat A is a swing vote region. Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base voters cannot be persuaded to turn out. Even if Kelly had raised another $50,000, he might not have convinced soldiers and airmen to vote in enough numbers to turn the ballots his way.

This is where the next redistricting can have an impact, and why holding the Senate majority and the House majority is so critical for Republicans. The redistricting board will have the ability to put Senate Seat A on a cycle that matches the presidential election.

To get a sense of how the impact of the two military bases impact elections in Fairbanks, the last presidential election is the best marker.  Here is how the individual precincts voted:

Aurora Precinct 1

  • Hillary Clinton 295
  • Donald Trump 434

Fairbanks No. 1

  • Hillary Clinton 65
  • Donald Trump 113

Fairbanks No. 2

  • Hillary Clinton 120
  • Donald Trump 157

Fairbanks No. 3

  • Hillary Clinton 205
  • Donald Trump 218

Fairbanks No. 4

  • Hillary Clinton 86
  • Donald Trump 149

Fairbanks No. 5

  • Hillary Clinton 228
  • Donald Trump 365

Fairbanks No. 6

  • Hillary Clinton 119
  • Donald Trump 182

Fairbanks No. 7

  • Hillary Clinton 216
  • Donald Trump 228

Fairbanks No. 10

  • Hillary Clinton 58
  • Donald Trump 119

THE BOTTOM LINE

For Senate Seat A to return to Republican control in 2022, they’ll need a well-known, well-regarded, and well-funded Fairbanks person to run in four years, and they’ll need to have that seat aligned with the presidential election cycle. Failing that, Republicans will need to motivate military personnel to come to the polls.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Great analysis. I was wondering about that race. Thanks.

  • I don’t get a photo credit for the Tongue-gate picture?

  • While it is probably true that a high percentage of people residing within senate district A are active duty military who (understandably) have less interest in ‘local’ elections, this does not explain why the Republican candidate in district 2A (Incumbent – Rep. Steve Thompson) prevailed decisively and the candidate in district 1A (Bart Lebon) is slightly ahead at this point. Nor does it help us identify what we need to do differently to achieve more desirable outcomes in future elections.

    The election boundaries will be redrawn after the 2020 census, but we should not depend on that process to deliver us. The current boundaries were drawn under the Parnell administration. The Redistricting Commission’s work was challenged by minority party operatives in the courts, but the current district boundaries are about as good as we can expect.

    If we want to change the outcome, we need to identify what the opposition did that was effective and do more of that. We also need to identify what we did that was less effective and do less of that.

    Keep in mind that elections – like wars – do not determine who is correct, they only determine who won.

  • Even Fairbanksans have a hard time figuring it out. The picture of Kawasaki sticking his tongue out during a House Floor session shows his level of immaturity. This is an unmarried fellow in his mid-40s who still lives with his mother. He sends birthday cards to all of his constituents regardless of their party affiliation. He had lots of financial support from rich Democrats in the Interior, especially from guys like big oil haters Joe Paskvan and Joe Thomas, both former state senators who lost their seats several years back. Another successful candidate with scant credentials is Grier Hopkins from House District 4. The son of extreme left wing FNSB (former) mayor, Luke Hopkins, and nephew of former House member David Guttenberg, another left-winger. Grier’s only credentials are that he was a technocrat in the Legislature, working for Joe Thomas. Hopkins is also a far left working with teachers unions, though he has little educational credentials himself. The bottom line is that Democrats stick together like glue in Fairbanks. They dont have pure majorities in Fairbanks. The Conservatives are either too busy working in the private sector feeding their families, or, tired of the same old wacky politics of the left-wing Daily Newsminer. After a couple years of Kawasaki and Hopkins, enough Conservatives will come out of hibernation to once again go to the polls and try to undo the damage.

  • Does anyone think that Pete Kelly’s failure to roll back state spending on the operating budget even a little gave voters less of a real choice than would otherwise have been the case? In any event I believe that over-spending on the University gives the University, and it’s clients and hangers-on too much money and power. I hope that fiscal conservatives can now rule the Senate Majority. Every time Walker bragged about SB 26 I winced. I am sorry Pete Kelly lost, as he is a great friend of 2nd Amendment supporters. But Alaskans have far too much state and municipal government. The smartest Alaskans have little or no municipal government and let the state provide all of it. Brick and mortar colleges are headed out the door, and mediocre ones will go first. Not every state needs a nameplate university. Alaska Airlines is based in Washington. Why can’t we pay for some college in Oregon or Washington to call itself the University of Alaska and call that good enough? So far as I can tell the University of Alaska excels in nothing but remedial courses.

    • I think your first line carries a majority of the blame for Pete Kelly’s loss. It’s been a difficult past few years having the likes of Pete Kelly in Fairbanks, Cathy Giessel in Anchorage, and Pete Micciche on Kenai, carrying around little bar charts showing where spending has been forced down, proclaiming “Near record-low spending” while the simple fact is the State is spending as much as, or more, on the Operating Budget now than before the recession hit. Those blatant lies are absolutely infuriating.

      The second-most infuriating part of it the way the lies are told: By the ingenius development of the “Dedicated General Fund”. A new slush fund pot of money that has no historical basis, and has no statutory requirement for tracking and reporting. So, while the UGF (Unrestricted General Fund) spending is indeed down, the new DGF is up (and growing), and we’re being told by those in power that State spending is going down. It’s a lie, and Senate President Pete Kelly got caught in it.

  • Not true….. There’s: 1. Man-made global warming studies; 2. Man-made polluted fish habitat studies; 3. White-man induced culture erosion studies; 4. Title 9 non-compliance studies; 5. Advanced teachings in Marxism; 6. White man’s ego centricism studies; 7. English as a second language.

    There. Now you have the full curricula for UAF, UAA, and UAJ
    Degrees.

  • Totally agree. Let’s care about results and value, even though no one cares about that. We are the only state without a law school and one of very few without a medical school. We spend a lot of money on education – K12 and university – but its the other end of the spectrum from world class.

  • Quite slanted. Progressive = big gov spending is BS. Right wing spends just as much. This is total fluff. Fake news.

  • I could be wrong, but I see this loss due to 2 major factors; No real budget cuts (despite talk to the contrary) and an apparent disdain for the PFD and the people of Alaska’s rights to it (and in general their ability to govern themselves). The other technical aspects and trends played a role for sure, but this candidate alienated his base. Many conservative Alaskans see PFD for what it is: a shareholder check they receive in lieu of having any subsurface mineral rights. This candidate looked at it as welfare. Even if it was such, which it is demonstrably not–most pragmatic conservatives would rather see it go to recipients in whole, without being washed thru government and diminished down to .40 on the dollar actuallt reaching the folks that “needed” it. So it’s not welfare, and if it was it would be better than government managed welfare, and this candidate didn’t get either of those points, but his voters did. Put that together with his constituents seeing that there were no real cuts being proposed? His people stayed at home. They could have insured him a relatively easy win, despite the other technical factors lined up against him, had he understood (or cared to understand) how his folks actually felt about the PFD and budget cuts.
    This was totally avoidable had the candidate really listened to his voters.

    • your last line is so true he lost as far south as the Kenai Peninsula Surprising JC got back in too!

  • I have to support Pete by pointing out the public nature of the Senate Presidency means you get to run point for the crappy solutions that politics deals you. And point 2, do you really think that Kawasaki is better? Mike Prax pointed out the dichotomy in voter thinking with both house seats being won by Republicans but the Senate going to the Democrat. I’m thinking if Pete wasn’t in the leadership he would have done much better.

    • Fairbanks District 2 is much more conservative than FD1. FD1 is a race with a five point spread (Bart LeBon). That’s where Kelly got beat by Kawasaki. Not FD2.

  • Lots of Baby Boomers dying off and moving home to retire is sure to change the tide towards Democrats. Their city council and borough assembly is mostly Democrats now, so it seems telling.

    Lots of younger Californians, folks from WA, OR, and CO moving in as well, opening businesses and buying property too, will definitely change things even more in the coming years.

    • Please remind those moving here from Democratic areas: California, western Oregon and Washington, that they left those societies for better situations. Please ask them not to vote as they used to in “South America”. Vote like their future depends on it.

  • How do you edit/correct comments?

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