NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola win reelection, in double defeat for Donald Trump

Alaska’s Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki has been reelect­ed to a fourth term and rook­ie Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mary Per­to­la has won a full House term, suc­ceed­ing the late Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don Young, with final vote counts announced Tues­day by Alas­ka elec­tion offi­cials. The results are the first gen­er­al elec­tion yield of the The Last Fron­tier’s new ranked choice vot­ing system.

The out­comes marked a dou­ble defeat for Don­ald Trump, who has had a Novem­ber to remem­ber. Trump had endorsed and cam­paigned in Alas­ka for Murkowski’s Repub­li­can chal­lenger Kel­ly Tshiba­ka, and for Sarah Palin’s spe­cial and gen­er­al elec­tion bids for the state’s at-large House seat.

It was Palin’s first run for office since quit­ting as Gov­er­nor in 2009, to cash in on celebri­ty sta­tus gained as Repub­li­cans’ 2008 vice pres­i­den­tial nominee.

Inde­pen­dent mind­ed, will­ing to work across the aisle, Murkows­ki earned the loathing of Trump. She vot­ed to impeach the 45th Pres­i­dent after the Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol. She has also worked to fash­ion bipar­ti­san leg­is­la­tion like the Infra­struc­ture Invest­ment and Jobs Act, which will invest bil­lions into Alas­ka projects rang­ing from broad­band access to bet­ter fer­ry service.

Under Alaska’s ranked choice sys­tem, adopt­ed by vot­ers in 2020, the state aban­doned par­ti­san pri­maries. All can­di­dates now appear on a jun­gle style August qual­i­fy­ing bal­lot. The top four vote get­ters advance to the Novem­ber bal­lot. If no can­di­date reach­es fifty per­cent, the can­di­date with the least amount of votes is elim­i­nat­ed and votes trans­ferred to their sup­port­ers’ sec­ond choice.

The sys­tem works for coali­tion builders, and against polar­iz­ing can­di­dates. Murkows­ki ran bare­ly ahead of Tshiba­ka as first place choic­es were tabulated.

But Murkows­ki was the over­whelm­ing sec­ond choice of vot­ers who sup­port­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Pat Ches­bro, third place fin­ish­er in the Sen­ate race.

“I am hon­ored that Alaskans – of all regions and back­grounds, and par­ty affil­i­a­tions, have once again grant­ed me their con­fi­dence to con­tin­ue work­ing with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Sen­ate,” Murkows­ki said in a vic­to­ry statement.

Unlike some Trump-backed can­di­dates, Tshiba­ka did concede.

In a long state­ment, she thanked Trump – and God – while denounc­ing ranked choice vot­ing as “an incum­bent pro­tec­tion sys­tem” and “an absolute des­e­cra­tion of democracy.”

Murkows­ki lost a 2010 Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry to Tea Par­ty-backed can­di­date Joe Miller. She won her way back to the Sen­ate with an unprece­dent­ed, his­to­ry-mak­ing write-in cam­paign, backed by Alas­ka Native cor­po­ra­tions, labor unions (main­ly teach­ers), vot­ers in the Alas­ka bush, and mod­er­ates. She reassem­bled prac­ti­cal­ly the same coali­tion this year. Murkows­ki was cen­sured by the Alas­ka Repub­li­can Par­ty after her impeach­ment vote. The par­ty backed Tshibaka.

One new force: Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McConnell sup­port­ed Murkows­ki and spent mil­lions from his PAC to air anti-Tshiba­ka TV spots. McConnell drew steamy denun­ci­a­tions from MAGA Repub­li­cans: Tshiba­ka accused him of want­i­ng “a Sen­ate minor­i­ty that he can con­trol as opposed to a major­i­ty he could not.”

Murkows­ki endorsed Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­league Pel­to­la, who bare­ly missed a major­i­ty in the first round and eas­i­ly out­paced Palin by 55% to 45% (a ten point mar­gin) when vot­ers’ sec­ond choic­es were count­ed. “It’s a two-year con­tract: I will be hap­py to work for Alaskans again, as long as they will have me,” she said.

Talk­ing to the Anchor­age Dai­ly News, Pel­to­la added: “I think it says that Alaskans are ready for an Alaskan to rep­re­sent them who isn’t spout­ing the canned mes­sages we hear nation­wide.” She hails from the rur­al town of Bethel.

Pel­to­la is a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor who has devel­oped exper­tise in man­age­ment of The Last Fron­tier’s salmon and her­ring fishery.

The crusty Don Young rep­re­sent­ed Alas­ka in the House for forty-nine-plus years, from 1973 to this past spring when he died on a Seat­tle-bound Alas­ka Air­lines flight. Peltola’s father once worked with Young, and the new House mem­ber smart­ly kept for­mer Young aides on her staff.

Alaska's Mary Peltola and Lisa Murkowski

Alaska’s Mary Pel­to­la and Lisa Murkows­ki at an AFN event before the Novem­ber 2022 gen­er­al elec­tion (Cam­paign photo)

Both Murkows­ki and Pel­to­la sup­port repro­duc­tive rights: Murkows­ki has indi­cat­ed open­ness to leg­is­la­tion that would cod­i­fy abor­tion rights nationwide.

Murkows­ki was also the sec­ond Repub­li­can sen­a­tor (after Ohio’s Rob Port­man) to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Murkows­ki has been both a col­lab­o­ra­tor and adver­sary of Washington’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell. The two “gen­tle­ladies,” as they are called in the Sen­ate, have worked suc­cess­ful­ly to get con­struc­tion under­way on a new heavy-duty polar ice­break­er, and design of a second.

They also worked on leg­is­la­tion that per­ma­nent­ly autho­rized and fund­ed the Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund, in which fed­er­al oil and gas rev­enues are used to acquire wildlife habi­tats and recre­ation lands.

Cantwell is a long­time cham­pi­on of the fund. Murkows­ki vot­ed to con­firm Pres­i­dent Biden’s nom­i­nee, Deb Haa­land, as U.S. Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary. Haa­land is the first Native Amer­i­can to hold the nation’s top land man­age­ment job.

Murkows­ki is, how­ev­er, a defend­er and advo­cate for Alaska’s pow­er­ful oil and gas indus­try. Under Trump, she found a back­door way to open the Arc­tic Refuge to oil lease sales. (Major com­pa­nies have declined to bid.) She has cham­pi­oned the Wil­low Project, an effort by Cono­co to devel­op an oil field west of Prud­hoe Bay.

Alaska’s Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Mike Dun­leavy did not need ranked choice to win a sec­ond term. He took just over 51 per­cent of the gen­er­al elec­tion vote. Repub­li­cans won a nar­row major­i­ty in the state House of Representatives.

A coali­tion of Democ­rats and rea­son­able Repub­li­cans is expect­ed to run the Alas­ka State Sen­ate for the next two years.

The losers in Alas­ka are not about to lie down. Last week, Sarah Palin became the first per­son to sign an ini­tia­tive peti­tion to repeal ranked choice voting.

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