First the news from Alaska: Republican Mike Dunleavy easily won the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday, former Sen. Mark Begich won an uncontested Democratic primary, and independent Gov. Bill Walker will go straight to the November ballot using the signature route.
So Alaska voters will get a choice of at least three, more likely four, or even five, candidates in November. And this much is certain: A minority of voters will pick that state’s next leader.
Four years ago independent Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Tlingit, won in a four-way race with 48 percent of the vote, defeating an incumbent governor, Sean Parnell, the Republican. The Libertarian Party candidate had 3.2 percent of the vote and the Constitution Party had a candidate with 2.5 percent of the vote. Missing from that tally was a Democratic Party candidate because Mallott dropped his bid in order to form a unity ticket with Walker.
But this time around Begich is running as a Democrat with Debra Call, Dena'ina, on his ticket for lieutenant governor.
So Alaska is one of two states where there are two Native Americans on the November ballot for lieutenant governor. The other is Minnesota. But in Minnesota one of the two candidates, Democrat Peggy Flanagan, White Earth, or Republican Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake, is certain to win. In Alaska the two Native candidates will be in a crowded field. Tuesday primary voters picked Kevin Meyer as the Republican nominee.
Every state, of course, sets its own rules for how people are elected to office. It’s interesting that one of next week’s primaries is in Oklahoma. And it’s a runoff election there because in that state politicians are required to win a majority -- even in a primary. So in a crowded field, such as the one in Alaska, voters will have their say again. A candidate has to get 50 percent, plus one. A majority. But come November the next governor of Alaska could take office by winning support from only about a third of all voters.
Indeed, a three-way, plus, split is good news for Republicans. President Donald J. Trump won this state two years ago by nearly 15 points. And a poll last month showed Dunleavy with support from 36 percent of voters, with 28 percent for Gov. Walker, and Begich in third at 22 percent.
The Walker administration replaced a Parnell administration that more often litigated with Alaska Native communities instead of working together. And Walker has supported Alaska Natives on Medicaid expansion, child welfare, and basic governance.
Dunleavy has a controversy already. His campaign took down an ad featuring an Inupiaq dancer after the subject, Marjorie Tahbone complained. She said she did not support the candidate. The campaign told the Anchorage Daily News that it obtained the video legally and that Dunleavy is "colorblind and he's gender-blind," his campaign manager said. "Mike's been married to an Alaska Native woman for 31 years. He would never advantage specifically an Alaska Native, a Caucasian or any other race.”
Begich says he is also supportive of Alaska’s tribes. He told The Cordova Times last week: “Tribes are the closest form of government to the people and I’ve always believed have the best feel for how local solutions work. That is why I am a strong supporter of tribal self-governance and understand how the government to government relationship has evolved and grown over time. We have seen how tribes can play an important role in public safety, health care, justice, infrastructure, and more. That is why as governor, I will continue my inclusive approach of bringing people together and making sure that processes are open, transparent, and involve local and tribal input because that is how we find the best solutions for all Alaskans.”
There is already pressure, however, for Begich to drop out as Mallott did four years ago. (Mallott was then the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor.) A letter last week from a number of number of Alaska leaders, including prominent Alaska Natives, asked Begich to stand down. “Many of us have supported you in the past and believe you have a continued future serving Alaskans. Now is not the time for you to run for governor,” the letter said. Among those signing: Former Sen. Willie Hensley; former Rep. Albert Kookesh; First Alaskans President Elizabeth Medicine Crow; and former Obama official, Raina Thiele. (The letter has almost 400 signatures.)
“A three-way race splits the moderate vote and rewards the extremist candidate,” says a background statement. “As moderate Alaskans we ask Senator Begich to withdraw before the September 2nd deadline.”
That September date is when ballots go to the printer. Four years ago Mallott dropped off the Democratic ticket and joined Walker’s Unity campaign just before that deadline.
Across the state, three Alaska Native candidates did not fare well in primary contests. Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, appeared to have lost her bid for a fifth term. She had been the House minority leader. Josh Revak, an Army combat veteran and a former staffer for Sen. Dan Sullivan, defeated Millett with a 57 percent to 43 percent margin in the Republican primary.
And in Juneau, Rob Edwardson, Tlingit-Haida, lost to Andi Story. He was running as an independent in the Democratic primary. James Hart, Tlingit, running in another Juneau district, also lost that Democratic Party bid by a wide margin.
Alaska’s lone seat in Congress will be contested between Rep. Don Young, a Republican, and Alyse Galvin who won the Democratic primary. Young has served in Congress since 1973 and is the longest currently serving member of Congress.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports