Republicans boost legislative presence in Southeast

Grussendorf's seat goes to GOP's Wilson

Posted: Wednesday, November 08, 2000

Peggy Wilson, Alan Austerman, Robin Taylor and Bill Williams took victory flights to Anchorage this morning to join the rest of Alaska's Republican legislative majority in several days of briefings.

They left behind another winner, Democrat Al Kookesh.

Wrangell Republican Wilson's election strengthens the majority by one, as she takes a House seat left open by Sitka Democrat Ben Grussendorf. She beat Stan Filler, another Sitka Democrat. Wilson admits her win of the District 2 House seat for Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell surprised everybody.

"I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I knew it would be close," Wilson said this morning, as she packed for the trip north.

Wilson won the race by 246 ballots, with almost 52 percent of the vote. Though she trailed Filler in Sitka, her hometown vote helped sway the results, with 53 percent of Wrangell's registered voters going to the polls.

"We had more people turn out than ever before," Wilson said. "Just the fact that so many people supported me really made a difference."

Filler was unavailable for comment, but Wilson said he called her last night to concede the race and offer any assistance she might need.

"He ran a wonderful race. It was upbeat and we both just did our own thing," Wilson said. "I probably will be calling on him."

When she returns to Wrangell, Wilson said she will prepare for her time in Juneau this winter and spring. She plans to follow up on her campaign themes of improved education and transportation as ways to draw businesses to Southeast and boost the economy.

The only surprise for Kodiak Republican Rep. Alan Austerman was that he beat Haines Democrat Tim June by only 940 votes, with almost 56 percent of the vote. The two were vying for the District C Senate seat left vacant by Republican Sen. Jerry Mackie.

"The votes fell in place, pretty much," Austerman said. "We anticipated taking Kodiak more than Southeast and being 10 to 15 points ahead, so we were a little down from what we hoped for."

Austerman was 1,239 votes ahead in Kodiak, while he lagged 299 votes in the 22 small Southeast towns included in what some call the "Iceworm District."

Secure in his win, Austerman spent most of the evening watching the ups and downs of the presidential race. June was up much later, watching the district breakdowns.

"I was up to about 4 in the morning waiting for those to come up," June said.

June said Austerman's position as an incumbent representative gave him a strong edge in Kodiak. June campaigned hard there, and though a newcomer, raised more money than Austerman. As of Oct. 28, June's campaign had raised $51,243, while Austerman's campaign reported $44,874.

"I was just actually shocked about that part of running for this seat," June said. "I just had so many friends and people who heard about the race who sent small amounts of money and great amounts of money."

June hopes Austerman will take up some of the issues the Haines resident campaigned on, particularly public education funding, putting subsistence on the ballot and leaving the Alaska Permanent Fund alone.

While June took a long nap before returning to his work as a grassroots organizer, Austerman caught a plane to Anchorage.

In Anchorage this week he will try to get a position on the Senate Finance and Resources committees, where he can push forward some of the issues he attempted to get passed during his last term in the House.

"I want to carry forward from the House the work we've started trying to get a long-term financial plan," Austerman said.

He also plans to prefile a bill changing the way the permanent fund dividend is calculated, the same measure he tried to get through the House last year.

Incumbent Wrangell Republican Sen. Robin Taylor beat challenger Greg Middag, a Ketchikan Democrat, by a 944-vote margin, taking almost 54 percent of the vote for the District A seat.

Incumbent Democratic Rep. Al Kookesh of Angoon also easily kept his District 5 House seat with 62 percent of the vote and a 777-vote margin against Republican challenger Terry Pardee of Haines.

Unopposed incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman received 4,240 votes for the House District 1 seat based in Ketchikan.

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