With strong leftist majorities still firmly in control of the Anchorage Assembly and School Board following the April 5 Municipal election, the Alaska Watchman reached out to several conservative candidates who lost their elections to find out whether they believe Anchorage can still correct its slide into hard left politics.
Overall, the election resulted in one new conservative on the Anchorage Assembly, which still leaves an 8-3 leftist majority. For the school board, both Planned Parenthood-endorsed candidates won re-election, which means the school board is comprised of a 6-1 leftist majority.
Below, are reflections from Assembly candidate Stephanie Taylor and school board candidates Mark Anthony Cox and Rachel Ries.
What, if anything, can be done to improve the chances of conservative candidates winning in Anchorage?
COX: This past election cycle has confirmed that the city of Anchorage wants to head in a direction opposite of the liberal majority. To improve outcomes, we need cohesion and synchronicity amongst prospective candidates who are placed in positions at the right time, as well as capitalizing on opportunities for a 1v1 ballot.
TAYLOR: We need a serious civics education campaign. Too many people blow off their responsibility to vote. Thankfully, we have many more citizens engaging and participating in campaigns and elections. Much of this is in response to the heavy handed Covid response, but we need more people to engage if we are going to change the trajectory of our city. My fear is that things are not yet bad enough for people to feel the need to engage. If we wait for that to happen, we may reach the point of no return.
REIS: We need to be better at being team players and better at how we approach potential vote splitters. Be more engaged with differing groups who may not align with us on all issues but are more aligned with us on key issues. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. We must be committed to our values and beliefs without being divisive.
Given that the Assembly and school board are still firmly in control by liberals, what is your recommendation in terms of what conservatives can do to make a positive difference in Anchorage politics going forward?
COX: There is a perpetual need for strengthening the foundation of the family, the community and the church. Looking at the short term, there is an immense benefit in unifying the divided conservative community through community outreach.
TAYLOR: Talk to everyone in your circle of influence. Respond to their complaints by sharing your heart on the issues. Remind them that we can be agents of change. Talk about the negative impacts of the liberal policies: growing homeless crisis, hundreds of lost businesses and jobs, a very divided community (us vs them mentality), rising crime and taxes, failing schools. Write letters to the editor. Attend assembly and school board meetings and give thoughtful, objective testimony. Encourage churches to remind their congregations to vote.
REIS: We need continued community outreach at community councils, and we must work with community groups and charities, be involved in community councils and continue to be informed and engaged as a community watchdog to highlight wrongdoing. We must be there when people realize what is going on and welcome them in instead of saying “I told you so.” We must overcome divisions within our smaller communities and events by demonstrating tolerance for discussion and actual debate – engage with our neighbors. We don’t need to agree on absolutely every detail, but we can be same-goal oriented about excellence in education, transparency, accountability in government, lowering crime, promoting economic growth, etc. There are a lot of things we agree on across the community that can unite us – quality of life, cost of living, safe neighborhoods, vital economics, education that is worthy of our tax dollars, etc.
What are the main challenges in terms of electing conservative candidates in Anchorage?
COX: There are multiple factors to include: voter turnout, multiple conservative candidates on a traditional ballot (not ranked choice voting ballot), and candidates that appeal across the aisle to independent voters as well.
TAYLOR: The biggest challenge is getting out the vote. It is troubling that so many Americans take no interest in exercising their right to vote. Many people sacrificed life and limb for us to enjoy our freedoms and rights. It demonstrates a lack of appreciation when we fail to vote.
REIS: The local papers are not neutral in their reporting. There is an obvious bias about who and what gets covered. The school board races are “at-large” instead of in districts like the Assembly. This is a whole separate issue, as it specifically relates to the school board.
What would you say to those who have lost hope that conservatives can win key Assembly and school board seats in Anchorage?
COX: In regard to statistics, conservatives won most of our municipal races. In regard to results, we incrementally moved the needle forward to attain an additional Assembly seat. The city wants to go in a different direction which we saw in the mayor’s race. We labor to be more strategic in our approach to campaigns moving forward, so conservative voters can see more representation in municipal offices.
TAYLOR: We cannot grow weary. We must persevere. We never know when the tide will change. We succeeded in electing a conservative mayor, so we know it can be done. What message are we sending to the next generation if we just give up?
REIS: Do not give up hope. Never give up hope. That is when the other side truly wins.
What, if anything, needs to be done to improve Anchorage’s election process?
COX: To improve Anchorage’s election process fiscally, I would suggest absentee ballots be made and distributed from our local Made in Alaska companies, as opposed to mail-in voting with ballots made and sent from out of state. To improve Anchorage’s election process for transparency sake, I would also suggest in-person voting – verifiable with identification.
TAYLOR: This mail-in election needs to go. There are myriad reasons why we should return to in-person voting: voter integrity, quick results, cost savings and greater efficiency, less room for error, more objective – no signatures to cure. Absentee, by-request, has always been available.
REIS: Return to voting in person with valid photo identification. Make the city clerk an elected position? I am on the fence with this last one.
How can conservatives build off of the campaigns you ran to better engage local politics?
COX: The social capital amassed after an election should be used wisely by reengaging the community with next steps to inspire increased voter turnout and campaign synchronicity.
TAYLOR: We can continue to encourage others to get involved in our political processes. Support like-minded candidates when they step up to run. Help share their messages. We need to continue working together to support one solid candidate for each seat, so we are not splitting the conservative vote.
REIS: Contact previous candidates and have honest conversations about the lessons learned, and provide introductions and information sharing as part of the larger conservative team. Have conversations much earlier in the cycle to develop candidates and get the word out. We wait much too late in the cycle to expect candidates to get the exposure needed to beat incumbents, especially when you factor in special interest influences.
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What do you plan to do now?
COX: God has blessed our family with another baby due next month. I will be teaching the teenage students at my local church. I have my businesses to prepare for increased demand, and I look forward to serving the community in the next election as a candidate and supporter.
TAYLOR: As opportunities arise, I plan to run again. Hopefully, I can build off of what we started and be victorious. I will continue to volunteer and offer my support to like-minded candidates.
REIS: I have submitted my name for consideration as the District 6 candidate against Suzanne LaFrance. I have gotten together with the other school board candidates from this cycle along with key campaign volunteers to discuss supporting each other. The consensus was to support Cliff Murray in the next school board race against Andy Holleman, and to support Dave Donnelly in his re-election bid. Continue community engagement and wholehearted support of Kelly Tshibaka and Nick Begich.