Juneau voters follow nation, not state

Residents heavily favor Democrats

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2006

Juneau residents broke with most of Alaska in choosing a new governor, weighing in heavily against winner Sarah Palin.

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While Democrat Tony Knowles lost decisively statewide to Republican Palin, Knowles won in Southeast, and in Juneau he won big.

"Juneau has always been just a little bit different from the rest of the state," said Randy Wanamaker, candidate for state House of Representatives and a long-time observer of local politics.

While Palin won statewide by 49 percent to 41 percent, in Juneau Knowles led Palin 66 percent to 22 percent. The story was the same throughout much of Southeast, although in some of the villages Knowles did even better.

In Sitka, Skagway, Craig, Hoonah, Kake, Tenakee and Metlakatla, Knowles won solidly. In Angoon, Knowles won 80 percent of the vote.

Ketchikan was among the few Southeast communities where Palin won and she thanked the town in an election night victory speech.

Juneau Republican leader Paulette Simpson said Palin's poor showing in Juneau, which also happened in the primary, was a result of campaign attacks on her commitment to Southeast and keeping the capital here.

"I believe the Knowles campaign just scared the daylights out of people, and so did the Juneau Empire," she said.

In other contests, Juneau also seemed more in synch with the rest of the country than the rest of the state.

If local voters had their way, Democrat Diane Benson would be representing the state in the U.S. Congress, instead of 18-term Rep. Don Young.

Republican Young won statewide by 57 percent to 40 percent, but in Juneau Benson won 54 percent to 41 percent.

Young has not done well here since former state Sen. Jim Duncan ran against him, said Simpson.

"Young has never been popular with the Democratic core, but he hasn't done that bad here before," she said.

On the two referenda, Juneau voters differed from the state as well.

Ballot Measure 1, which shortens legislative sessions, got trounced here even though it passed handily in the rest of the state.

Some Juneau residents may have voted their pocketbooks because a contingent of lawmakers, staff and lobbyists is always good for business.

But people here are also more likely to understand that legislating can't be rushed, Wanamaker said.

"I think the folks in this community who know the Legislature know it takes time to accomplish work in a thoughtful manner," he said.

Ballot Measure 2, imposing a tax on natural gas reserves, failed statewide by a 2-1 margin, but did far better in Juneau with 45 percent in favor and 55 percent opposed.

Juneau's state Rep. Beth Kerttula, who won re-election in an uncontested race, said the reason was that people here were probably better informed about the measure.

"It was difficult to understand on its face," she said. "I think the people of Juneau got it but it was too difficult overall."

Wanamaker speculated that Juneau's high proportion of government employees may affect its voting patterns.

"Juneau is a public service town, and public service employees always tend to vote a little different," he said.

Outgoing state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, wasn't so sure that played a role in Juneau's strong Democratic presence because it hasn't swayed Anchorage.

"You can't really say it's just government, because most government jobs are up north. Most state largesse goes up north, from the University to the DOT to federal projects," he said.

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