ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Update June 5:
Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat who's represented downtown Anchorage for nearly two decades, said Tuesday he's not running for re-election, making him the 12th legislator who is leaving a seat.
An unusual number of legislative seats will be empty when voters go to the polls on primary day in August or Election Day in November.
At least 11, and probably 12 lawmakers have decided to leave their posts. Some are retiring or quitting, some are seeking other offices.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s likely that the Senate, now governed by Republicans, or the House, led by Democrats, will change leadership. Most of the seats being vacated are relatively safe for the party that last held them, with one prominent exception.
In Fairbanks, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, the Senate President.
Kelly won the seat in 2012 by beating the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Joe Paskvan. Some Democratic Senators grumbled that Paskvan, who was co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee, didn’t work hard enough to keep his seat.
But Kawasaki is by all accounts a hard worker and he says he intends to fight hard for the seat. Kelly is likely to fight just as hard to keep it.
Depending on the outcome of the Kawasaki-Kelly contest, the Senate majority caucus could hang in the balance. Two moderate Republican senators from coastal districts — Gary Stevens of Kodiak and Bert Stedman of Sitka — served with Democrats when a bipartisan coalition ran the Senate before Kelly’s election. Stevens was Senate President then, and Stedman was co-chair the Senate Finance Committee.
In Anchorage, Rep. Les Gara, a Downtown Anchorage Democrat, says he will likely not run even though he filed with the Alaska Division of Elections to keep his seat. If Gara does depart, it will probably not change the makeup of the House — Democrats usually control the downtown House and Senate districts — but it will certainly change its character. Gara is one of the most voluble House members, regularly calling reporters with tips or complaints.
Three other Democrats have filed to replace him, including activist Cliff Groh and former Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields. A Republican, a Libertarian, and an independent have also filed for the seat.
In Eagle River, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, who served as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee in the 30th Legislature, is retiring from the Republican-held seat, and two Republican House members are butting heads to replace her — Dan Saddler and Lora Reinbold. Since both are Republicans, the political makeup of the Senate is unlikely to change as a result of the race for Senate District G.
In Homer, Rep. Paul Seaton, a long-term Republican who joined the Democratic-led House, filed this year as an independent and intends to run in the Democratic primary. Four Republicans are seeking to replace him.
The two other Republicans who joined Democrats to run the House — Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage — have attracted opposition candidates from both parties.
Five legislators are unopposed in both the primary and the general election. Two are Democrats, Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel and Rep. Neal Foster of Nome, and three are Republicans, Sen. Click Bishop of Fairbanks, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard of Wasilla, and Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole.