ANCHORAGE - Buoyed by the defeat of a Fairbanks incumbent and a strong showing in Alaska's largest city, Republicans won 27 seats in the state House of Representatives and easily kept control of the 40-member body.
For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.
The only incumbent to lose was Fairbanks Democrat Joe Hayes, who is completing his first term. He was defeated by businessman Jim Holm, the son of a former legislator and a Republican National Committee member.
Coupled with Frank Murkowski's win in the governor's race, the victories gave Republicans control of both houses of the Legislature and an all-Republican congressional delegation.
In one close race, Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg, a former legislator, led Republican Randy Smith by 53 votes. If remaining absentee and questioned ballots maintain Gruenberg's victory, Democrats would have 13 seats, although Democratic Rep. Richard Foster of Nome, who won re-election, usually aligns himself with the Republican majority.
Representatives of both parties predicted Republicans would keep control of the House. House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, who predicted more GOP losses, said he felt like a "Democratic salmon swimming upstream against a Republican bore tide."
"It went a lot worse that I had hoped," he said.
Berkowitz said one of the most disturbing outcomes of the evening will be the absence in Juneau of many of the legislators who worked on solving the state's fiscal gap.
"I think there was a lot of 'shoot the messenger' taking place," Berkowitz said.
He said many Alaskans may still be hoping the next big boom will come along and rescue the state from the up-to-$1 billion gap between government income and spending. He said he hoped for a boom too.
"But you can hope for the best and prepare for the worst," he said.
The Republican majority in the House began with a march back to office by incumbents. Republicans controlled nine House seats before voting began. Incumbents Bill Williams of Ketchikan, Carl Morgan of Aniak, John Coghill of North Pole, John Harris of Valdez, Gary Stevens of Kodiak, Lisa Murkowski, Norm Rokeberg and Kevin Meyer of Anchorage, plus newcomer Paul Seaton of Homer, faced no opposition.
Jim Whitaker of Fairbanks easily defeated 11th-hour write-in candidate Urban Rahoi.
Republican incumbents Vic Kohring of Wasilla, Pete Kott of Eagle River and Mike Chenault defeated nonpartisan or minor party candidates.
Bev Masek of Willow fought off challenges by Wasilla Democrat Kay Bills and Alaskan Independent Jon Pinard. Anchorage incumbent Lesil McGuire defeated Democrat Jay Trumble and Libertarian Mickey Sexton.
Incumbent Peggy Wilson of Wrangell defeated Sitka attorney Denny Pearson, a Democrat, and Rep. Hugh Fate of Fairbanks defeated former Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly member Karen Parr.
Carl Gatto kept a Palmer seat in the Republican camp, defeating three opponents, as did Bill Stoltze of Chugiak, who defeated Alaskan Independent Larry Wood. In Kenai, Kelly Wolf defeated Hal Smalley, a former state representative.
The other winners included Anchorage Republicans Cheryll Heinze, who defeated nonpartisan Andree McLeod and Democrat John Palmatier; Ralph Samuels, who defeated Republican Moderate and former legislator Ray Metcalfe; Mike Hawker, who defeated nonpartisan Pat Abney; and Bob Lynn of South Anchorage, who defeated nonpartisan Jim Crary; and Tom Anderson, who defeated Owen Cary.
Four minority caucus Democrats were elected without opposition: Les Gara of Anchorage and incumbents Carl Moses of Unalaska, Mary Kapsner of Bethel and Reggie Joule of Kotzebue.
Other than Hayes, all Democrat incumbents were re-elected. In Anchorage, Berkowitz defeated Republican Steve Strait, Eric Croft turned back former state Rep. Roger Jenkins, Sharon Cissna defeated Mike Ryan, and Harry Crawford prevailed in a vigorous challenge by Art Nelson and Republican Moderate Clyde Baxley.
In Southeast, Democratic Rep. Albert Kookesh of Angoon easily defeated Gary Graham of Cordova. In Fairbanks, Dave Guttenberg kept the University of Alaska seat in the Democratic camp by defeating Republican Tom Scarborough and Alaskan Independent William Nemec.