Egan: 'I can't believe it'

Posted: Wednesday, June 02, 2010

It's a free ride this year for Juneau's three legislators.

Tuesday's filing deadline passed without anyone challenging for Juneau's two seats in the House of Representatives or its one Senate seat.

"God almighty, I can't believe it," said Sen. Dennis Egan, appointed to the Senate at the end of an acrimonious battle between Juneau Democratic leaders and former Gov. Sarah Palin.

That was almost exactly a year ago, but since then the atmosphere in the Capitol has changed markedly with new Gov. Sean Parnell, along with a further influx of oil dollars that has provided money to solve problems.

Neither of Juneau's two House members found themselves with a challenger either. That may not come as a surprise for 10-year incumbent and House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, a Democrat in one of the state's most Democratic districts.

Democrats didn't find a candidate to challenged Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, in a Valley seat they held just two years ago.

Juneau Republican Party co-chair Ben Brown said he's not surprised that Democrats thought Muñoz would be tough to oust.

"Cathy is a good, solid Republican with a moderate approach," he said. "She has support from a lot of people who might otherwise vote for a Democrat."

While several seats are contested, and there are a couple of open seats following retirements, the national "throw the bums out" sentiment being reflected in media elsewhere didn't translate in challengers in Alaska.

Republican Party Chairman Randy Reudrich said the lack of challengers might have something to do with the upcoming redistricting that will follow the 2010 census count.

"This is fairly typical of the fifth year in a reapportionment cycle," he said. "These numbers are fairly close to what we had in 2000, when there weren't that many challengers either."

While Republicans were unable to find challengers in about eight seats now held by Democrats, they have contested primaries in about nine seats Republicans are hoping to hold.

If Republicans beat each other up in their own primaries, they might weaken themselves for the general election against a Democrat, said Patti Higgins, Democratic Party Chair for Alaska.

"I don't know how much they're going to damage themselves in the primary, but we have only one contested primary," she said.

Reudrich, though, said Republicans hope to pick up two seats in the Alaska Senate, now tied 10-10 but controlled by a 16-member bipartisan coalition. The Senate Working Group was dominated by Democrats, but later picked up two Republicans.

"Our goal is ten-plus-two, and I think that's a goal we can achieve," he said, especially if Alaska Republicans pick up a boost from national trends.

Egan, though, said it is likely that Republicans had difficulty fielding stronger candidates, as factors like the bipartisan Senate coalition and Palin's resignation reduced partisan tension in Alaska.

"We worked together as Republicans and Democrats to resolve a lot of contentious issues, or at least not have them impede what we needed to do for the state," Egan said.

At the same time, he said, the Juneau delegation worked together across party lines to resolve differences.

"I think it was a good working relationship that Cathy, Beth and I have. We all work well together, and our staffs work well together with Juneau and Alaska in mind," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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