Two powerful Republicans lose, but GOP retains Senate control

Posted: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Republicans held on to a majority in the state Senate on Tuesday as two familiar GOP faces and one veteran Democratic lawmaker were sent packing.

Anchorage Sen. Dave Donley, co-chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, was upset by Democrat Hollis French. Nikiski Sen. Jerry Ward was defeated by Republican Moderate Tom Wagoner, the small party's first election victory.

Car dealer Ralph Seekins, a Republican, claimed victory over state Rep. John Davies, a Democrat, in a Fairbanks Senate district.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Seekins' victory gave Republicans 11 seats, Republican Moderates one and Democrats eight. Republicans held a 14-6 majority in the Senate last session.

In one of the closest races of the night, Rep. Gretchen Guess, a Democrat, held an 88-vote lead for a vacant Senate seat in East Anchorage over tourism businessman Tim Worthen. Remaining absentee and questioned ballots will be counted Nov. 19.

The GOP started election night with four Senate seats in hand. Robin Taylor of Wrangell did not face re-election. Incumbents Alan Austerman of Kodiak and Ben Stevens of South Anchorage ran unopposed. Republican Scott Ogan ran unopposed after the primary.

Other Republican incumbents won easily.

Gene Therriault of North Pole defeated Alaskan Independence Party member Trac Copher of Sutton, Lyda Green of Wasilla beat Democrat James Della Silva, and Gary Wilken defeated Mike Waleri.

Two Republican state representatives won promotions to the Senate. Fred Dyson of Eagle River defeated Democrat Roberta Goughnour to win a seat vacated by Senate President Rick Halford. Con Bunde of Anchorage defeated Mitch Schapira to claim an open seat.

In a race covering Spenard and other parts of West Anchorage that turned bitter in its final days, French credited his organization and a team of 100 volunteers knocking on doors for putting him over the top.

Donley, once a Democrat, tried to make French's claim of military service an issue. French listed his service as "USMC (ROTC) 1977-1978," which he later explained was six weeks training at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base.

French said most people saw his military record as a non-issue and he never tried to make it out as anything more or less than was stated in the pamphlet.

As for why voters picked him, "It's a choice of politics of the last 10 years versus politics of the future," French said.

Ward, who listed Anchorage as his home before districts were reconfigured, was hurt by accusations that he was not a full-time Kenai Peninsula resident. His Democratic opponent, Pat Hawkins, also withdrew from the race and endorsed Wagoner.

Wagoner took Ward to task for refusing to debate him. And despite his party's title as Republican Moderate, Wagoner said Ward was not conservative enough. He said Ward was part of a group that gave lip service to cutting the state budget, then didn't do it.

"They reduce the governor's recommended budget," he said before the election, rather than the previous year's budget.

The Seekins-Davies campaign was one of the most expensive ever in the Interior. Both raised more than $100,000 and Seekins kicked in $20,000 of his own money.

Seekins pounded Davies for his support of a fiscal plan that included new taxes. He contended Davies advocated a spending plan that would cost families of four nearly $3,500 each.

Seekins told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner his ideas for economic development were the main catalyst for his victory.

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