Tiffany Zulkosky will keep her House District 38 seat, according to unofficial election results. She defeated her GOP challenger, Darren Deacon, by a big margin: Zulkosky got 55 percent of the vote, while Deacon only received 44 percent.
Zulkosky focused on protecting vital government programs for rural Alaskans from budget cuts this year, including health and education.
"I know having had experience growing up in the region and working for the regional, just working in politics, that rural Alaska is often disproportionately impacted first," Zulkosky said.
But the biggest issues separating the two candidates boiled down to natural resource development and the Permanent Fund Dividend. Zulkosky voted in favor of the state legislature using funds from the Permanent Fund Dividend’s Earnings Reserve to pay for government operations this year, but she also supports putting a structure in place to protect the fund. Another big issue was the proposed Donlin Gold mine, which could be one of the biggest in the world if developed. Zulkosky expressed skepticism about the project.
"The Kuskokwim River is the largest subsistence fishery in Alaska, so anything that could potentially damage the health of our salmon is something that’s really concerning," Zulkosky said.
While Zulkosky did not have a stance on a controversial salmon habitat ballot initiative, she did sign the petition to put it on the ballot. She also said she would support legislative action on tougher environmental protections, and reforming public participation for big projects like Donlin.
In other election news, state Sen. Lyman Hoffman ran unopposed for Senate District S and will keep his seat.
Republican Mike Dunleavy won the governor’s seat, beating Democratic candidate Mark Begich with 52 percent of the vote. Don Young will keep his seat as Alaska’s U.S. Representative, a position he’s held for more than four decades. A controversial salmon habitat initiative was defeated by a large margin; more than 60 percent of Alaskans voted no on Ballot Measure 1.
Voter turnout seemed pretty healthy in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It’s unclear how turnout in Bethel compared to previous years, but residents turned out for a variety of reasons that included the salmon habitat initiative. In some Y-K Delta communities, residents battled challenging physical conditions to cast their vote.
"The river condition is very scary. It’s all ice, some water," said Jamie Tinker, a resident of Kasigluk who helped with the election.
The Johnson River divides Kasigluk into two sections, and ice began forming over the past couple of weeks. But temperatures started climbing a couple of days ago, destabilizing the thin ice. Despite these obstacles, Kasigluk and other villages reported higher than average voter turnout.
The election results still have to be certified to become official.
Anna Rose MacArthur and Christine Trudeau contributed reporting.