ELECTION 2018: Competition fierce for local Senate, House seats

Friday, September 7, 2018 - 15:16

The decision by Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, to step down from the Senate triggered a chain reaction that’s led to some of the more contested battles of the summer.

When MacKinnon decided not to run for re-election in District G, Republican state House members Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, and Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, both decided to try to step up.

It’s been an acrimonious race. The duo has clashed throughout the campaign season, with attacks lobbed in campaign ads and public events.

One of the most visible signs of the candidates’ acrimony came during Eagle River’s annual Bear Paw Festival, where a verbal altercation erupted between Saddler and Eric Reinbold, Lora’s husband. In later interviews, both men blamed the other for “trash talking,” and neither contacted police.

Like many Republican candidates, Reinbold is running on a platform that attacks Senate Bill 91, Alaska’s sweeping attempt at criminal justice reform in 2016. She accuses Saddler of being soft on crime because he voted for the bill initially. In one campaign ad that appeared in the ECHO magazine, Reinbold called Saddler “The Straddler.”

Saddler has since reversed course. He now says he’d vote to repeal the controversial reform measure. In the ECHO, Saddler ran an ad directly beneath Reinbold’s that said simply, “Dan doesn’t call people names — he gets things done.”

Both have promised to cut the budget, restore a full Permanent Fund dividend and repeal the crime bill.

As of a week before the election, Reinbold had outraised Saddler. She reported $55,872 in campaign income and $46,542 in expenses, while Saddler raised $47,071 and spent about $38,000. But Reinbold has been her campaign’s biggest donor, pumping more than $30,000 of her own money into her campaign.

The winner faces Democrat Oliver Schiess of Eagle River.

[Read more: Races to watch in Anchorage-area primary elections for House and Senate next week]

House District 13, Eagle River: Experienced candidates vie for Republican nomination

A former state legislator, a retired Air Force colonel and a local attorney are vying for the Republican nomination in Saddler’s district, which includes parts of Eagle River, Chugiak and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Craig Christenson, Nancy Dahlstrom and Bill Cook are all running on platforms that center on crime and the PFD. Christenson is a retired physician who served as deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services under Gov. Sean Parnell. He said he’d like to see SB 91 repealed and replaced with tougher laws, and the legislative session moved to Anchorage.

Nancy Dahlstrom served in the state House between 2003 and 2010. She said she wants to see the crime laws re-examined. Bill Cook is a former prosecutor and judge who has promised to work for a full SB 91 repeal. All say they want PFD funding returned to the formula that was used before the Legislature voted to cap it.

The most recent campaign finance reports show Dahlstrom was leading the spending race by a nearly 2-to-1 margin over each of her opponents, with nearly $19,000 raised and $12,400 spent as of Aug. 11. Her campaign has been bolstered by $5,000 she had left over from a previous campaign, as well as $5,000 from various Alaska unions. Christenson had raised a little over $10,000 and spent more than $9,000, while Cook reported a deficit — he’d spent $9,812 compared to $4,900 raised.

Nonpartisan Danyelle Kimp is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face the winner of the Republican primary in November.

House District 14, Eagle River: Newcomers bid to replace Reinbold

Meanwhile, the race to replace Reinbold is shaping up as one of the most expensive for the House. First-time candidate Kelly Merrick has brought in a flood of donations for her campaign.

Merrick — wife of Alaska union leader Joey Merrick and a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska — has raised more than $50,000, with $8,000 coming from unions and another $5,000 from herself. She’s campaigning on a law-and-order platform and has said she believes the state needs infrastructure improvements to grow its economy.

Merrick’s opponents, Jamie Allard and Eugene Harnett, are also new to politics and have been far outspent in the race. Allard has Reinbold’s endorsement for the seat and has raised more than $11,000 while spending more than $9,000. She’s an Army veteran who has said she’ll work to repeal SB 91, restore the PFD and roll back government regulations.

Harnett has served as a legislative aide. He is campaigning on a socially conservative platform emphasizing family values, as well as the repeal of SB 91.

The winner faces nonpartisan Joe Hackenmueller.

All quiet in District 12

In contrast to other area races, there have been few fireworks among candidates for District 12, which includes parts of Chugiak, the Butte and Knik-Fairview. Incumbent Cathy Tilton is running unopposed in her primary, as is undeclared candidate Stephany Jeffers in the Democratic primary.

The primary election will be held Aug. 21, though early voting is already open.

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