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District 31 voters head to the polls for midterm elections

Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

Voters across Alaska headed to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on local, statewide and national races. KBBI reporters Aaron Bolton and Renee Gross spoke to voters around House District 31 about what spurred them to get out and vote.

Bolton: In talking to voters today, I heard a lot about the current political climate and a lot of finger pointing from both sides in terms of which political parties are to blame for the current divisiveness in the country. Did you hear the same thing?

Gross: Definitely, President Donald Trump was on a number of voters’ minds on both sides of the political aisle.

Homer resident Harry Wilson said his vote today would send a message in support of Trump.

“I think we're sending a message to the Democrats for being so obstructionist and for being so hateful of the president and the press that covers him,” Wilson said.

Bolton: I also heard a lot from Trump supporters, but I also heard a few comments from those who adamantly oppose him and the Republican Party as well.

Carolyn Wilder is from Homer and she’s 76 years old and she said this was her first midterm. She said it was the Republican party that was driving her to the polls.

“Because I’m just disgusted with the politics are going,” Wilder said.  “I used to be a Republican. I would not vote Republican now for the rest of my life. I am so angry at the direction that they’re going in.”

Gross: A lot of voters said that this election was especially important and it was a tipping point in terms of where the country is headed politically. What did you hear from voters?

Bolton: I did hear from several voters that did say they voted in past midterms but this time it felt a little bit different. Voters like Anchor Point resident George Davis said they think turnout in District 31 is going to be high. And they say the increased interest in this election is driving those voters to the polls.

“A friend of mine called me up, he went to the Kasilof voting station at like 8:30 a.m. and he said the parking lot was already filling in,” Davis said. “So I think a lot of people are really getting out.”

Bolton: However, others like Homer Resident Kyra Wagner didn’t view it as a positive. She thinks voters are being motivated more out of divisive tribal politics.

“It’s like watching a battle on television versus watching a conversation on television,” Wagner said. “One is going to be more exciting than the other. So yes, I think this has got a lot more people riled up, but I think that’s because it’s divisive. So unfortunately, I don’t consider that a benefit. I consider it a true detriment for our lack of ability to have those conversations that would break through some of the divisiveness.”

Bolton: But it wasn’t just national politics that are a factor today. There are other local and statewide issues that were on voters’ minds. What did you find that was pushing other voters to vote today?

Gross: I heard a lot about Ballot Measure 1, a measure that provide more regulations for development affecting salmon habitat. I heard from voters on both sides of this issue who said it was on the top of their list when it came to voting.

People who were against it said the measure would hamper development in the state. Kachemak City resident Maygen Lotscher was really concerned about the future of salmon in the state and the commercial fishing industry if the measure doesn’t pass.

“I feel like it could be very dangerous to places, for example, like pebble mine, that it seems like a lot of Alaskans are fighting to keep out so that's a very tangible thing that would affect our local community because there's a lot of people that live here and support our community, that that's their profession," she said. 

Bolton: You know, I didn’t really hear a whole lot about this issue from Anchor Point and Homer voters. But another issue, or race rather, I am really surprised that I didn’t hear a lot more about was the local House District 31 race between incumbent Paul Seaton and Sarah Vance.

Gross: Yeah, I agree. Though I did come across some Vance supporters like Paul Hueper of Homer. Before we listen to the tape, I think most voters who were paying attention to this race will know that Seaton left the Republican Party earlier this spring.

“Really embarrassing to see what he has done down in Juneau, goes in as Republican, caucuses with three other very liberal Republicans, which I know is supposed to be an oxymoron,” Hueper said.  “They don't stand for any of our values.”  

Bolton: In general, the House District 31 itself race wasn’t on top of everyone’s list that I spoke to, though some issues like SB91, a controversial criminal reform bill and PFDs, were large issues in the race, and they were heavy on a lot of Anchor Point voters’ minds. And there’s a whole more that we could unpack surrounding those issues but we’ll have to leave it there.  

Aaron Bolton has moved on to a new position in Montana; he is no longer KBBI News Director. KBBI is currently seeking a News Director, and Kathleen Gustafson is filling in for the time being.
Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.
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