In the race to replace House District 4 Rep. Bill Hudson, Republican candidate Bruce Weyhrauch defeated Democrat Tim Grussendorf by almost 10 percentage points in Tuesday's general election.
Incumbent Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kim Elton and Rep. Beth Kerttula maintained their seats in the Legislature. Elton will serve his second term in the Senate and Kerttula her third term in the House.
As the new representative for the Mendenhall Valley, Weyhrauch will succeed Hudson as Juneau's sole Republican lawmaker. Weyhrauch said he will be a moderate voice in the House and plans to work with both parties to address pressing issues such as the state's fiscal gap.
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"I think it's important to be in the majority, but I also think it's important to solve problems," he said. "You have to work with everyone in the majority and the minority to solve problems."
Weyhrauch said Juneau always should be in some sort of leadership role, adding he is looking to participate in substantive committees, naming State Affairs and Finance as two possibilities.
But before getting to the state's business, Weyhrauch plans on a break to spend time with his family.
"I really look forward, first of all, to cutting the grass, which I haven't done in four months; to going camping with my son's scout troop this weekend at Eagle Glacier ... and working as hard as possible for this community with the Legislature, and hopefully we can solve problems instead of passing the buck to the next Legislature," Weyhrauch said.
Grussendorf, a former aide to Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman, resigned from his position as Hoffman's chief budget adviser in May to make his bid for the Juneau House seat. Grussendorf plans to return in some fashion, working for the Democrats in the next Legislative session.
He attributed Weyhrauch's victory to a strong Republican base of support in the Mendenhall Valley and his opponent's ability to raise more campaign contributions.
Hudson's endorsement of Weyhrauch also hurt his campaign, Grussendorf said.
"Sometimes I felt like I was running against Bill," he said.
Hudson became a notable figure in the most recent Legislative session as one of the founders of the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus.
The caucus attempted to forge a long-range fiscal plan for the state in an effort to address the fiscal gap that threatens to deplete the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve within the next couple of years. Although the caucus debated a variety of revenue measures, it was successful only in passing a dime-a-drink alcohol tax.
Although U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who won Tuesday night's gubernatorial election, has rejected many of the revenue measures offered by the fiscal policy caucus, Hudson said the new governor should have about a year to implement his plans to raise revenue through resource development.
"I think (Murkowski) has to have the opportunity to see if he can put any of his new deals in there that might generate some additional revenue, but in the final analysis I don't agree in every instance with either one of the gubernatorial candidates," Hudson said.
Ultimately, Murkowski will have to figure out how to balance the state budget because of the constitutional requirement mandating that the state does not spend more than it has, Hudson said.
Republican candidate for the Senate Cathy Muñoz ran a close race against Elton, losing to the incumbent by 458 votes from more than 12,600 cast. Elton took 52 percent of the votes to Muñoz' 48 percent.
With a loss of the Republicans' two-thirds majority in the Senate, Elton said he expects a more moderate tone in the chamber.
"I think we'll probably spend less time on constitutional amendments and other things that give political advantage and more time on the policy issues that are very, very important to most Alaskans," Elton said.
He said the departure of some of the most aggressive partisan lawmakers also would help eliminate the divisiveness of the Senate. Once the organization of the body is determined, Elton said he would like to be on the Finance Committee or in a leadership position.
Muñoz, a small business owner, said she has not decided if she would run for office in the future, adding she plans to focus on her family and business.
"I just know that it was a great campaign, and I was pleased that we did so well," she said. "We ran a real positive issue-oriented campaign; we had a lot of support from a number of different people and organizations in the community."
Like Elton, Kerttula, the incumbent Democrat serving House District 3, said she looks forward to working with a new batch of lawmakers next session and expects a less divisive tone in the Legislature.
"It would be hard (for the Legislature) not to be more positive than the last two years," Kerttula said.
The defeat of incumbent Sens. Dave Donley of Anchorage and Jerry Ward of Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula would help soften the divisive tone of the Senate, she said.
With the defeat of Ballot Measure 2, which would have moved legislative sessions from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or Anchorage, Kerttula said Juneau should continue to make improvements in access to the capital and communication with lawmakers.
"So now is the time when we get to move forward, and we get to decide how we want to deal with that, whether we need to just make improvements, whether we need to build and how we want to do it," she said.
For the third time, Kerttula defeated Republican challenger Mike Race. On Tuesday, Kerttula took 66 percent of the vote to Race's 34 percent. Race did not rule out a future run for the seat.
"I think I've proven that I can only get 32 to 35 percent of the vote in that area," Race said. "But I think in four years here that the face of the voters are going to change in that district."
Race, a real estate broker, said sending two Democrats back to the Legislature would hurt Juneau's chances of receiving funding for projects.
"Bruce (Weyhrauch) is going to be a fine fellow, but we create the same situation where everything is going to be on his back," Race said.
"I think that Kim and Beth have truly created a situation where they need to work across party lines, and it would benefit our community."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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