November’s state election, perhaps more than any in recent memory, places Alaska in uncomfortably uncharted territory.
For the first time in nearly half a century, Alaskans will vote to send a new face to the United States House of Representatives in Washington, DC, for a full term. It could be a woman or a native, or the first Democrat since 1972. The winner will fill the seat vacated by the late Republican congressman Don Young, who died March 18 after serving in Congress since 1973 .
That vote will take place using the state’s new ranked voting method, which aims to keep moderates and fringe candidates in the contest, give third parties a boost, and give voters more choice — and the possibility of voting for the favorites who have no chance of winning.
Unsurprisingly, the new non-partisan system has a lot of support from those who probably couldn’t win the elections under the old system, or politicians who could easily win the general election, but would find themselves in trouble during the primary elections where only members of their parties could vote. The primaries, particularly Alaska’s GOP closed contests, served to ensure adherence to party platforms — and to punish those who strayed.
Proponents of ranked voting hope the new system will relegate all the angst and anger of head-to-head elections to the dustbin of history, turning ugly, upsetting and dragging campaigns into kumbaya chants where a number growing number of candidates, forced to be courteous to each other as they appeal to a wider constituency, be nice.
So far, the run-up to the November elections belies all that. There’s a lot of sniping and only 11 of the 19 state Senate seats up for grabs are contested by two or fewer candidates, and in House races, 26 of the 40 seats have two or fewer candidates. Not a huge change from the bad days.
If nothing else, the ranked choice voting system hotly opposed by Alaska’s two major political parties and narrowly adopted by voters in 2020 shows what leftist outside interests willing to spend nearly $7 million in largely black silver can accomplish.
Alaskans after August’s House special election and open primary find themselves with four candidates in November’s U.S. House race — Democrat and Alaska native Mary Peltola, Libertarian Chris Bye and two Republicans – failed vice-presidential candidate and former governor Sarah Palin and Nick Beguich III.
Peltola won Young’s seat through January but is due to stand for re-election in November against Palin, Begich and Bye for a full two-year term. It should be noted that 60% of Alaska voters did not rank Peltola first in the August special election. Despite the notion of supposedly sweeter, softer elections, that number set off fireworks between Palin and Begich, with Palin almost immediately demanding that Begich drop out of the race to allow a Republican to claim Young’s seat.
“I’m appealing to the negative Nick Begich to get out of this race,” Palin whispered at a press conference. “He doesn’t represent the best of Alaska. He represents the good old boys’ network, the establishment and yes, the liberals, the liberals of the Democratic Party.“
It was surprising to hear all this liberal love talk from a self-styled populist, trumpeter and ‘masked singer’ who was perhaps the most ardent socialist in the state before she left office. from the governor in 2009 for greener pastures after just two years.
For her part, Begich said Palin had been “embarrassing” during the campaign and politely invited her to pound sand, with her campaign saying, “We are confident we are on a positive trajectory to win in November.” With all the vagaries of ranked voting – including the whozits, whatzits and howzits of how voters rank or fail to rank candidates – it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get a good idea of the upcoming election. . There are the high negative numbers reported by Palin. There is Begich’s connection to a family of Democrats. Former senator Mark Begich is his uncle, for shouting out loud. Begich’s grandfather, Democrat Nick Begich, was a congressman from Alaska until his plane disappeared in 1972. Then there’s Peltola, who got a minority vote in August. Bye isn’t even a factor in the race.
If Begich or Palin were to bail out — and now they’re busy doing what Republicans are wont to do, which is slitting their throats — Peltola’s claim to Young’s desk could be very brief, indeed. If the two stay – and the official deadline to exit has passed – his odds improve dramatically and Republicans will once again have a chance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Hey, maybe the territory isn’t so unfamiliar after all.
Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, editor of the Anchorage Times, editor of the Voice of the Times, and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.
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