Anchorage’s election is as boring as it is consequential

Let's take a break from the Legislature—that's what legislators are doing—and take a look at why it's hard to get jazzed about Anchorage's incredibly important election.

Happy Friday, Alaska! With the Alaska Legislature taking an early and long weekend, I wanted to switch gears to Anchorage’s pending election because, hey, there’s an election underway and it’s really important! It’s just kind of, well, boring.

Before you object, let me explain myself. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to be focusing in on the mayoral race (sorry Anchorage School Board and 11 propositions, maybe next time) where, yes, we have a ton of candidates vying for what’ll almost certainly be a May 11 run-off election. There are a lot of options—fifteen candidates, fifteen!—but are there, really?

Sure, there are a lot of differences between each candidate, but the underlying choice on this ballot is stark: Either the city continues to chug along the bumpy road to recovery or yanks the wheel to the right, hard.

By all accounts, the frontrunners are progressive candidate Forrest Dunbar and far-right candidate Dave Bronson, but swap in one of the different flavors of progressive or conservative and the decision is largely the same without a heckuva lot of nuance in between. How’d we get here?

The shift to the far-right hasn’t helped Anchorage conservatives, who’ve been handed defeat after defeat on the Assembly and in the mayor’s office for several cycles in a row. And with the advent of Facebook groups that cater to the most extreme impulses, things aren’t exactly getting better (though there’s certainly some debate as to just how authentic and widespread this movement is). If the right could stand up candidates with more mainstream appeal—oh, say, Bill Evans, for example—I think I’d actually give them the advantage in this election cycle, capitalizing on the exhaustion of the pandemic with that conservative “I’m a Business Guy, guys!” thing. Instead, their leading candidate is Dave Bronson, a figure who’s been lurking around extreme-right politics for decades and more recently been showing how tough a guy he is by packing people into mask-free fundraisers like sardines. And the seeming runner-up is Mike Robbins, who also labels himself as a businessman (with a shady business past, as you do).

And on the progressive side, you have frontrunner Forrest Dunbar, very competent Bill “Hey, He’d Make a Good City Manager, Huh?” Falsey and George “Can’t We All Get Along” Martinez. While the far-right would seek to paint this crew (Dunbar particularly) as radical leftists, those who have been paying attention to the assembly’s actual policies and not just the anti-masking theatrics (which have started to subside, by the way) might see something else. Anchorage is not exactly defunding the cops any time soon.

The biggest material complaint, if there is one, is the city’s handling of the pandemic and that’s been blunted with the vaccine’s arrival and the elimination of pretty much any limitations on businesses or gatherings, and it didn’t take the election of a covid denier to do it.

This election—and most elections, for that matter—is a case for the reforms contained in Ballot Measure 2. Open primaries and ranked choice voting are intended to make room for the middle and away from the hyper-partisan primaries that have driven the right further and further to the extremes. How would this race look if voters could feel more comfortable voting for candidates in the middle instead of against candidates on the extremes? The Bills—Bill Evans and maybe even Bill Falsey—would have more room to operate here. Bill Evans and Forrest Dunbar in the run-off? That’s a race that might have more room for nuance.

After an incredibly divisive election, months of bad-faith arguments about election security and the pandemic, I can see how it’s hard to be particularly enthusiastic about the election, a fact that seems to be evidenced by the low turnout so far.

But the thing is, this is an enormously consequential vote. It’s a decision that will decide the city’s handling of crime, handling of criminal justice, handling of homelessness and handling of the ongoing pandemic recovery. Will the city see those efforts through or take a hard turn off the ledge?

So as boring as voting in this election may be, please, go do it.

Alright, I gotta go fill out my ballot… just gotta figure out what these dang props do.

Your legislative fix

Depending on how you count it, we’re about halfway through the legislative session. For a check-in on some of the bigger storylines, Pat Race and I sat down to record another episode of our infrequent Alaska civics podcast Hello Alaska! Check it out wherever you get podcasts (and if it’s not there, let me know and I’ll get on it) or find it here.

Reading list

  • Gallup released a survey this week found that Americans’ membership to churches and houses of worship fell below 50% for the first time since the polling firm began asking the question eight decades ago. Seven in 10 Americans still affiliating with some organized religion. Though the survey doesn’t opine on it, it’s interesting to see the fall-off begin around 1998 and onward, coinciding with the activation of far-right efforts to outlaw same-sex marriage. From Gallup: U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time

  • “Vaccine hesitancy is one of the primary impediments to our ability to get back to normal quickly,” state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said this week, as case counts are ticking back up and the pace of vaccinations has flattened. Alaska’s still ahead of the curve on vaccines with 41.4% of eligible Alaskans having at least one dose and 29.8% of eligible Alaskans fully vaccinated. With legislators and some outlets doubling down on scare tactics, it’s going to be a long road to normalcy. From the Anchorage Daily News: In Alaska, COVID-19 case counts are rising again — and the pace of vaccination has plateaued

  • For those who’re are willing to get the shot (and you should), there’s growing interest in just what that little white card will mean for you (well, other than a free donut at Krispy Kreme). Here’s a good explainer from the New York Times, which also notes that Office Depot stores will be offering free laminations through July 25. From the New York Times: What You Need to Know About Your Vaccine Card

Weekend watching

Simone Giertz made a name for herself as “The Queen of Shitty Robots” but has transitioned into an excellent YouTube creator who’s detailed her own creative process, her own journey with a brain tumor and even duked it out with Mythbusters’ Adam Savage in a Mad Max-inspired cars. This week, she detailed the process of making a chair for the very needy Scraps.

Have a good weekend, y’all. And get vaccinated. Let’s get through this together.