Senate District N: A battlefield for Republican dominance

Senate District N comprises portions of East Anchorage, the South Anchorage Hillside and stretches down through Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. Small pockets of the district, particularly in Girdwood, or Girdweird, as some call it, are Chomsky-style lefty. Others, particularly those who live in the mega-mansions on the hillside, are Reagan-righties. And its home to what will undoubtedly be one of the most expensive and hard fought legislative races in this election cycle. The Senate race in this district—pitting former legislator Harry Crawford against Republican incumbent Cathy Giessel, is a particularly hot race. The House races, which put incumbent Republicans Lance Pruitt and Mike Hawker versus challengers Matt Moore and Sam Combs, are less hot, but also competitive.

Here’s a little about the two candidates running for state Senate and the candidates running for the two House seats in the district, and my take on the current status of these races, for what it’s worth.

Senate District N: Democratic Harry Crawford v Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel 

Sen. Cathy Giessel and Democrat Harry Crawford can be best described as polar opposites. In fact, about the only thing they have in common is that they are both about the same age.

Giessel is a life-long Alaskan with very strong conservative and pro-business leanings. She was first elected to the Senate in 2010. In 2012, she won re-election defeating her opponent with close to a 60 percent margin. She campaigned on natural resource development, in-state gasline development, increased economic development, and oil tax reform, and she did so with stealth-like efficiency. She is the chair of the Senate Resources Committee, which she ran with an iron fist, and a timer. She isn’t the warmest lawmaker that Alaska has seen. You might get a smile out of her occasionally—particularly if you’re in the resource extraction business and if you agree with her. But you won’t see her yucking it up with the boys and girls at the bar. She will, however, work tirelessly to get bills passed. For that work, she received an A+ from the Alaska Business Report Card in 2014.

According to her most recent APOC filings, she has raised $137,408 for her campaign. She has retained Saber, (Mary Ann Pruitt and Darcie Stieren) for political consulting services.

Crawford is a former member of the Alaska House of Representatives from 2001 – 2010 and serves on the board of directors of Chugach Electric. He still carries a Southern draw from his home state of Louisiana, even though he has lived in Alaska for 39 years. He’s a quintessential, back-slapping southern, union card-carrying Democrat and an iron worker, who dreams in massive projects that involve lots of steel. “Getting the projects out of the ground and the iron in the air,” as he says it. Don’t underestimate the smile, however. He’s a tireless campaigner and a charmer at the door. Former Speaker of the House Ramona Barnes—also known as Rambona–learned this the hard way when Crawford beat her in one of the biggest political upsets in the state’s history.

Current state of the race: This race will be one of the hardest fought races for a Senate seat in the state. Both candidates will work hard, tirelessly going door-to-door, and have each raised a solid six figures to finance their campaigns. One factor that is difficult to measure at this point, although fully expected, is just how much independent expenditure money will be spent by organized labor and the Alaska conservation voters to advance Crawford’s campaign. There is no independent expenditure money that I’m aware of to come to Giessel’s defense. However, because the district is so conservative, I’d say the state of the race at this point is a toss-up, still leaning in favor of Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel.

House District 27: Democrat Matt Moore v Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt

Democratic candidate Matt Moore is challenging Republican incumbent Rep. Lance Pruitt for the House District 27 seat which covers predominately the east side of Senate District N.

Moore ran for state House in 2010 and got soundly beat by Rep. Mike Hawker. He ran for U.S. House in 2012, and was beat in the Democratic primary by state Rep. Sharon Cissna. He began this election cycle running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Don Young, until he dropped that bid and set his eyes on the state House.

Moore, a 26 year Alaska resident, is married to a medical doctor and is the owner of Medical Practice Solutions LLC.  He has been campaigning on strong public schools and fiscal accountability. To date, his campaign has reported donations of $51,203, of which $10,000 came from himself.

Pruitt, born and raised in Anchorage, was first elected to the House in 2010 by beating a Democratic incumbent. He has reported raising $54,846 for his campaign. He is currently the House Majority Leader. He’s a new-school Republican. He doesn’t shy away from the media. He doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, and he’ll actually talk to a Democrat or two about policy. After one short term, he emerged as part of the House leadership team as their Majority Leader. These are just some of the reasons that The Washington Post named Pruitt to their national list of “Top 40 Under 40” as someone to watch in the political field earlier this year. That’s not to say that he isn’t vulnerable. For one, he’s part of a majority that’s been labeled, fairly or not, fiscally irresponsible. Secondly, he hasn’t yet learned the two, time-honored lessons in politics: keep your enemies close, and it’s more important to be feared than to be liked.

Current state of the race: Rep. Pruitt is well-liked and has won two contested elections. He leads in the race for campaign cash. However, Moore, who has run for political office several times unsuccessfully, appears to be mounting his most credible challenge to date. Organized labor has also targeted this district to help elect Democrats up and down the ticket. Additionally, Moore is the beneficiary of Brad Keithley’s independent expenditure campaign against Pruitt, claiming that he is fiscally irresponsible by supporting unsustainable spending levels. This appears to be a real race. However, because Pruitt is a proven vote-getter, coupled with the fact that he hired veteran political consultant Marc Hellenthal,  I’m calling it leaning in favor of of the Republican, Rep. Lance Pruitt, for now.

House District 28: Democrat Sam Combs v Rep. Mike Hawker

This south Hillside race that stretches down to Girdwood is between incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Hawker and his Democratic challenger Sam Combs.

Hawker was first elected to the House in 2002. He is currently the chair of the Legislative Council and has championed the development of a North Slope gas pipeline. He is a former co-chair of the Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee. Professionally, he is a retired CPA. He’s smart, sometimes acerbic, and isn’t afraid to let everybody know it.

Hawker has proven himself time and again when it comes to running successful campaigns and political fundraising. According to his most recent APOC report, he has raised $61,421. His campaign is being assisted by local ad agency Northwest Strategies.

Combs, a newcomer to Alaska politics despite his 59 years of residency, is an architect and has been active in the community, primarily in the areas of historical preservation, neighborhood development and the American Institute of Architects.

Combs’ campaign is focusing on fiscal accountability and school funding. He has been an outspoken critic of the new Anchorage Legislative Information Office, and regularly uses the negative moniker it has been given – – the Taj MaHawker. He claims Hawker was responsible for granting the sole-source contract which increases the state’s costs 700 percent for a building that the state won’t ever own. He’s been called an eccentric, mostly, it seems, because he wears hats. But he’s smart and well-spoken.

To date, Combs has reported campaign contributions totaling $28,913.

Current state of the race: Hawker, as the incumbent, appears to be sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has raised more than twice the campaign cash as has Combs and has garnered his neighbors’ votes successfully for years. Hawker is a survivor, both personally (prostate cancer) and politically. I’d say that the only way that Hawker could be beat is with a well-heeled independent (organized labor) expenditure committee with a well-honed message on the Anchorage LIO. The chances of this happening, I’d say, is slim given labor’s other pressing priorities coupled with the fact that Hawker isn’t viewed as their nemesis. As of now, I’m guessing that Rep. Hawker keeps his seat.

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4 thoughts on “Senate District N: A battlefield for Republican dominance

  1. Jayme Miller

    Mike Hawker has been a pretty good friend of labor. He’s been fair and has strong support from his district. The Anchorage LIO project will be used against him, but at least he got something done instead of passing the buck like previous Leg Councils did. Everyone knew it was a political hot potato, and they hid from the issue for years until the leases were up and something had to be done. I give Hawker credit for taking it on even knowing he’d become a target for it.

  2. DB

    Amanda, you got one thing really right about Crawford: ” massive projects that involve lots of steal”. Or was “steal” a marvelous play on words?

  3. Lori

    Your analysis of the district and the races is fairly spot on with the exception of Pruitt and Moore. I feel that you’re giving Moore too much credit. He obviously likes running for political office despite his consistent record of losing. He was beat in a Democratic primary by Sharon Cissna who can only kindly be called a very nice goof ball. So, I don’t see the credibility that you must see. I’ll bet on a strong R sweep in this district.

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