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Alaska Senate races draw more than quarter-million in final weeks

Jill Burke

More than $250,000 was raised in October by members of and challengers to Alaska's Senate bipartisan coalition up for election Tuesday, according to seven-day-reports filed by the candidates last week with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Coming into the election season, the 16-member coalition perceived as hostile to Gov. Sean Parnell's oil tax reforms was targeted for destruction by candidates pledging to end the across-the-isle middle ground, criticized for taking too little action on the state's oil tax debate.

Two Republican incumbents who were coalition members -- Linda Menard of Wasilla and Tom Wagoner of Kenai -- were picked off in the primary by challengers from their own party, leaving the Republicans with only four official members of the coalition and the Democrats with 10. Because of a 10-10 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Alaska Senate last year, the 16-member bipartisan coalition became a powerful alliance.

It received some praise as well as some criticism as a place where good ideas grew stagnant with too much debate and too little action. Only one incumbent, Democrat Dennis Egan of Juneau, is not up for re-election, the only member of Alaska's 60-person legislature to escape a run to the ballot box brought on by the state's recent tweaking of legislative districts due to the U.S. Census.

With the coalition's fate hanging on outcomes at the ballot box, there are some contentious battles:

• Democrat Hollis French pulled in $44,049 this month in his effort to fend off Republican challenger Bob Bell, who in October raised $24,120.

• Democrat Joe Paskvan of Fairbanks raised $17,690 in the last month to try to convince voters he's worth keeping in his seat over challenger Pete Kelly, who pulled in $14,230.

• Also in Fairbanks, Democrat incumbent Joe Thomas raised $20,431 in campaign donations, while Republican candidate John Coghill raised $16,230.

• Democrat Bill Wielechowski, an incumbent, raised $29,495 this month to challenger Bob Roses' $10,755.

• Democrat Bettye Davis, another incumbent, pulled in nearly double the amount of her Republican challenger, Anna Fairclough. In October Davis raised $22,869; Fairclough - $13,886.

• Redistricting has pitted two incumbents on the Senate bipartisan committee against each other: Democrat Albert Kookesh and Republican Burt Stedman. Kookesh raised $12,995 in October, Stedman, $17,800.

• Three Republican incumbents of the coalition facing minor opposition -- Lesil McGuire, Kevin Meyer and Gary Stevens -- collectively raised nearly $23,000 in October.

Two independent expenditure groups are also raising large of amounts of last-minute cash:

• Putting Alaskans First pulled in $244,800 this October, with $49,000 coming from Bob Gillam, an anti-Pebble Mine activist, and $145,000 coming in from various union-affiliated political action committees. Putting Alaskans First has spent money in support of several members of the bipartisan coalition, both Democrat and Republican.

• The Accountability Project, which states it was create to promote “accountability of elected officials with regard to economic and business-prosperity issues” raised $117,275 this month. The bulk of it -- $100,000 -- came from the Washington D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee. It has spent money in support of Republican candidates challenging coalition incumbents.

Tuesday Election Day. 

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com