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Senate balance of power at stake in election

Posted: November 6, 2012 - 10:37am

ANCHORAGE — Voters on Tuesday will decide legislative races that will help determine the makeup of the Alaska Senate.

At least 16 of the Senate’s 20 seats are up for grabs, and Tuesday’s results will help decide whether the balance of power shifts and Republicans seize a clear majority.

Of the four seats either uncontested or decided, two belong to incumbent Democrats — Sens. Lyman Hoffman and Dennis Egan — and two to Republicans who unseated GOP coalition members in the August primary, Mike Dunleavy and Peter Micciche.

The House has a Republican majority, and that isn’t expected to change with the outcome of Tuesday’s elections.

All 10 Senate Democrats are joined by six Republicans in the coalition, which has been in power since 2007. Some GOP leaders, including Gov. Sean Parnell, want to break up the group, which they consider obstructionist on issues including changes to Alaska’s oil tax structure.

The coalition last year refused to follow the House and pass Parnell’s oil tax-cut plan, which critics called a massive corporate giveaway with no guarantees it would mean additional investment here. Coalition leaders at the time said they didn’t have the information needed to make a sound policy call.

This year, an overhaul of the tax structure stalled in the coalition caucus, but the Senate approved a narrower plan, intended to encourage oil production from new fields, late in the regular session. That died in the House. Lawmakers in both parties and chambers lambasted a Parnell tax-cut plan proposed during a special session and eventually pulled.

Boosting oil production is a top economic priority for Parnell, who sees changing Alaska’s oil tax system as a way to do that. Alaska relies heavily on oil taxes to run, but production has been declining.

No one in the Legislature has argued with the desire to increase production; the debate lies in how best to do that.

Redistricting has shaken up a number of districts, throwing four incumbents together on the Senate side and eight in the House.

Senate District A features Democratic Sen. Joe Thomas of Fairbanks and Republican Senate Minority Leader John Coghill of North Pole. Senate District Q in southeast Alaska pairs Republican Senate Finance Committee co-chair Bert Stedman of Sitka and Sen. Albert Kookesh of Angoon. Both Stedman and Kookesh are coalition members.

Other races of note include Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, and Bob Bell, in an expensive, ugly campaign, and Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River.

On the House side, Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, a former House majority leader, is competing as an unaffiliated candidate in House District 33, after skipping a crowded GOP primary. The race includes Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, the House majority whip, and Democrat Matt Olsen.

Democratic Rep. Pete Petersen and Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt are competing in District 25 in Anchorage; Reps. Bob Miller, D-Fairbanks, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, are in District 2, and Reps. Alan Dick, R-Stony River, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, are in District 38, with non-affiliated candidate Dorothy Shockley.

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