Wednesday, November 21, 2012

District J Alaska State Senator Hollis French Clinches Victory Over Republican Challenger Bob Bell; Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins Defeats Bill Thomas

Hollis French
After all remaining absentee ballot were counted in the Alaska Senate District J race, it appears that Democratic incumbent Hollis French has prevailed over Republican challenger Bob Bell. French received 7,594 votes to 7,540 for Bell. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says the results will be formally certified on Friday November 23rd, and that if Bell wants a recount, he can request one after that date. Bell did request a recount, and on November 30th, Fenumiai certified that the recount affirmed French's victory by a 7,605 to 7,546 margin.

When the count of absentee and question ballots from the November 6th elections began on November 13th, French was leading by 247 votes. After the first day of the count, French's lead had been whittled to 56 votes.

Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
Another close race features Republican Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines tied with political newcomer Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka; as of November 16th, they were tied. However, after all outstanding absentee ballots were counted on November 21st, Kreiss-Tomkins has apparently won, 4,123-4,091. KTUU reports that Thomas will consider his options, including a possible recount request, after speaking to the Division of Elections. Kreiss-Tomkins' victory would mean the Republican advantage in the House is whittled down to 26-14. All of the House Majority assignments for the upcoming 2013 session are listed in this News-Miner story. Update November 28th: Bill Thomas has decided to ask for a recount. On December 3rd, this recount was completed, and Gail Fenumiai reported that Kreiss-Tomkins defeated Thomas by 32 votes. The final totals are 4,130 votes for Kreiss-Tomkins and 4,098 for Thomas.

Read more here:

But although Hollis French is going back to the state senate, he will be toothless. Republicans now hold a 13-7 edge in the Senate and have formed a 15-member majority including Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) and Donny Olson (D-Nome). This means that Alaskans gained a secondary victory -- Hollis French will no longer chair the Senate Judiciary Committee where he bottled up so much pro-development legislation. It is unlikely he will chair any other committee, either; the state senate has already announced their leadership selections.

In a race this close, the least vulnerability will decide it. And there were two issues which I believe tipped the race to French:

(1). On October 24th, Bob Bell was fined $390 by the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) for failing to disclose the clients of his engineering firm and the fees that they paid. The fine was only half the maximum because of Bell's good filing history and the fact that the governing regulation was new. Nonetheless, APOC said Bell should have disclosed the clients when he filed his disclosure statement in May. In a close race, this type of carelessness, although anecdotal, can be costly.

(2). In 2010, Bell, a member of the Alaska Board of Game, picked up a subsistence permit and went on a hunt for musk ox near Nome. However, Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations require if an animal has horns, they must be destroyed in order to deter trophy hunters from participating in subsistence hunts. However, the horns were not destroyed, although the person he turned them over to said she would destroy them. Eventually, Bell received a set of intact musk ox horns adorned with art. There was no way Bell could know if they were the same horns, and Alaska State Troopers agreed that there's a loophole which justifies Bell's interpretation, so they took no further action.

However, Alaska Dispatch reporter Craig Medred decided this should become a Watergate-type crisis, and so he started obsessing with "Horngate", publishing four different articles between October 27th and November 2nd. Dispatch also published two other articles critical of Bell during the same time frame; it was almost as if Craig Medred had become Hollis French's press secretary. Unfortunately, lost in the shuffle was an October 10th LTE to the Anchorage Daily News, in which Cliff Judkins, who joined Bell on the hunt, wrote "We hired a carver in Nome with instructions to carve the horns into pieces of art and to check with Fish and Game to make sure her work destroyed the trophy value and she did. We didn’t violate any laws and nobody accused us of violating any laws, except a liberal reporter [Craig Medred] who wasn’t there", but his letter got virtually no public attention. So Alaska Dispatch got away with trying and convicting Bell on their website.

Meanwhile, the only controversy that arose for Hollis French was when he was accused on October 25th of improperly coordinating his campaign with Putting Alaska First Committee. They used the same bookkeeper and the same companies that produce commercials and buy air time. French and officials of the committee said the complaint was without merit and that they were in strict compliance with the law, and on October 29th, APOC apparently agreed it wasn't serious enough to be calendared before the election.

In a race this close, two hits against Bell, even though he was vindicated both times, was enough to tip the election to Hollis French. If French is smart, he won't take his victory as a mandate, but will strive to represent the interests of ALL of his constituents.

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