New Southeast legislative districts are driving up campaign costs, especially for some closely watched races that may pit incumbents against each other.
Two incumbent state senators will face each other in the fall, Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, after the latest version of the redistricting maps.
Declining relative population in Southeast has made the districts in the region larger than before, and new lines means that even incumbent legislators have to introduce themselves to new communities.
“It sure costs a lot of money,” Kookesh said. “There’s no common newspaper, there’s no common radio station.”
Kookesh is facing an uphill challenge, running against Stedman in a district that is three-quarters of the Sitka senator’s current district.
Stedman said it’s a challenge for him as well. He just returned from five days in Haines — newly added to his district — meeting and greeting potential voters at the Southeast State Fair.
“It’s more expensive to get around, and then there’s hotels or bed and breakfasts or whatever,” Stedman said.
Both Kookesh and Stedman started the year with campaign cash on hand, but Kookesh has outraised Stedman so far.
He’s been tapping into Native corporations for donations, and also serves as Chairman of Sealaska Corp., and has visited Anchorage for a fundraiser.
“That’s where my world is, everybody gets money from people they know,” Kookesh said.
Stedman said the big campaign contributions are usually made in Anchorage, but he has no plans at this point for a fundraiser there.
For Juneau, the races are much less interesting. Sen. Dennis Egan is in the middle of a 4-year term, and his district was not significantly changed in redistricting to require a special election. It is the only district in the state not up for election. And Reps. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, and Cathy Munoz, a Republican, are unopposed in both the primary and general elections. While they raised little, they began their year with extra money.
Likely the hottest race, and certainly most contested, is the new southern Southeast District 34 into which incumbents Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, have been redistricted.
Johansen didn’t file for re-election in the Republican primary but two other Ketchikan Republicans did file to challenge Wilson.
Agnes Moran and Patti Mackey, both well known locally, are seeking the Republican nomination, but concede that they risk splitting the Ketchikan vote.
Wilson, however, has been a member of the House of Representatives Republican leadership, and has the regional name recognition that comes from 10 years of legislative service. She was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The candidates for the District 34 primary race, and an unopposed Democratic candidate, Matthew Olsen, have all raised between $6,000 and $9,000 so far.
Moran pointed out that none of Wilson’s money came from the new district’s population center of Ketchikan, and said that may be an indication that she’ll have difficulty winning voters there.
“I just find it doubtful that Ketchikan is going to vote that heavily for an individual from Wrangell over two local candidates,” Moran said.
Moran said her campaign contributions were all obtained locally, in contrast to her competitors.
Mackey said low fundraising amounts aren’t reflective of the interest in the campaign.
“Southeast races are traditionally more low key than in Anchorage, where tend of thousands of dollars are spent,” she said.
And she said it would be a mistake for either her or Moran to assume they’d win because they were from Ketchikan.
“Certainly the Ketchikan voters have the advantage in terms of numbers, but don’t believe that any of the candidates are approaching it from that angle,” Mackey said.
She said she has contacts in areas outside Ketchikan because of her role in the tourism and visitor industry, but has had to spend money to visit Wrangell and Prince of Wales Island to introduce herself to people outside that industry.
“Not everybody in those communities is in the industry, so there’s definitely some work ahead,” she said.
Following the primary, there may be one more three-way race facing southern Southeast voters.
While Johansen didn’t file for the Republican nomination he has said he’ll run in the general election as an independent.
Ketchikan Republican leaders tried unsuccessfully to recall Johansen after he clashed with the House Republican leadership and wound up outside any caucus during the last legislative session.
If Wilson wins the Republican primary, she may find herself facing two Ketchikan-based opponents in the November general election as well.
Mackey called the potential role of Johansen “ an interesting question” but said it wasn’t yet relevant.
“It won’t even matter if I don’t win the primary election,” she said.
All those candidates are facing what may be the region’s most hotly-contested races with little campaign cash available.
One other southeast race won’t heat up until the general election. Incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, and is running unopposed in the Republican nomination in new House District 34.
Thomas was Southeast’s top fundraiser, and began the year with a cash lead and now sits on the region’s biggest campaign war chest of about $35,000.
Challenging Thomas, and also unopposed in his party’s primary, is Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat, that has fared well thus far with fundraising but still faces a relative shortage of campaign money and name recognition.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.