Despite a well-funded, negative campaign by political action committees against him, incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, easily won election in Tuesday’s primary for the District 31 House seat.
Seaton said negative campaigning backfired and probably helped him in the three-way Republican contest.
With no other candidates running in the general election, barring a write-in campaign, Seaton, 70, will be elected to an eighth term in the Alaska House of Representatives.
At 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, with nine out of nine precincts reporting, Seaton had 1,279 votes or 47 percent to 787 votes or 29 percent for second-place finisher John Cox and 678 votes or 25 percent for third-place candidate Mary E. “Beth” Wythe. Percentages have been rounded up to whole numbers. That tally includes some early votes cast before the election. Absentee ballots remain to be counted but are unlikely to make a difference.
“It’s looking pretty good,” Seaton said about 9:30 p.m. at an election night party at Alice’s Champagne Palace as six out of nine precincts in District 31 reported. “Wythe and Cox are almost tied, but that’s a lot of ground for any one of those candidates to make up.”
Homer Mayor Wythe said her loss to Seaton was disappointing, but not as disappointing as if Anchor Point businessman John Cox had won the race. Wythe indicated the Republican Party encouraged Cox’s race for the seat.
“All indicators were that the party wanted to replace the seat and it was disappointing that they threw him (Cox) on top of that,” Wythe said.
Wythe congratulated Seaton and expressed thanks to her supporters. “I want to thank them for their time, energy and funding. Sorry we couldn’t make a change.”
Anchor Point businessman Cox could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Seaton said he thought the campaign waged by political action committees against him turned off a lot of voters. Wythe is Right! Seaton Must Be Beaten, an independent expenditure effort backed by The Accountability Project, spent more than $20,000 advocating for Wythe and against Seaton. Another group, the Alaska Republican Assembly, backed by the Alaska Right to Life Committee and Big Lake contributors Mike Alexander and Harry Thompson, sent out last-minute mailers challenging Seaton’s record on taxes and gun rights.
“A lot of people have been disgusted with the negative campaign that took place on her behalf,” Seaton said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a campaign with so much wrong information on the lower peninsula.”
Wythe said she believed the Wythe is Right! Seaton Must be Beaten group stayed consistent with information available through the voting records in their campaign to support her.
“I don’t think they made a statement that they could not trace back to either the way that the incumbent voted or an action that was taken,” Wythe said. “The information they published is purely their own information … but the things that I saw because I got the same flyers that other people got, I felt like the information they were posting was not inaccurate.”
That kind of campaign was difficult to challenge because it did not come from a candidate, Seaton said. He said he took Wythe at her word that she had nothing to do with the PAC campaigns. Seaton did note a connection between Wythe and Dan Gardner, a deputy treasurer of Wythe is Right! Seaton Must be Beaten. Gardner is Wythe’s husband, John Wythe’s, boss at Homer Public Works.
Many of Seaton’s supporters echoed Seaton’s comment about negative campaigning. Homer fisherman and writer Hannah Heimbuch cited a mailer sent out on Monday by the Alaska Republican Assembly that featured a woman cowering before a man with a knife and the words, “When seconds count, Paul Seaton wants to leave you defenseless!”
“Why would that convince anyone to vote for the other person?” Heimbuch asked. “It was the wrong message for Homer.”
“People were turned off by the trickle-down negative campaign,” said Seaton supporter Candy Rohrer. “Locally, it doesn’t go very well here. That’s what turned the tide.”
Another Seaton supporter, MaryAnne Gross, said she wasn’t surprised by Seaton’s victory.
“I expected him to win handsomely,” she said, “I think there were enough lies in the questionnaires to get us all upset.”
Another fisherman, 60-year Homer resident Lee Martin, praised Seaton for his bipartisan efforts to address Alaska’s fiscal gap.
“Paul was willing to cross the hall. That is a very big plus,” he said. “Paul’s been good for the community and the state.”
With her mayoral term coming to an end with the municipal election in October, Wythe said, she’s not sure what’s next.
“I think for every time there is a season and my season for the city of Homer is done. … I consider it public service, not politics, because when politics get involved you get the ugly stuff in there,” she said.
Wythe said she would finish her mayoral duties, take a vacation and then “see if there’s something political for me. My husband’s version of that is ‘you’re done,’ but we’ll see. I’m not accustomed to having a lot of free time in my life. … I haven’t had free time in 30 years.”
Wythe supporter Dawson Slaughter of Anchor Point said the election results were what he expected. Without Cox in the race, Wythe’s numbers would have been better, but maybe not enough to beat Seaton.
“I thought she was the stronger candidate,” said Slaughter. “ I like what she had to say, what she stood for. If she had won, maybe we would have had some change in the state. But you can’t be upset about it either.”
Wythe’s campaign manager Duane Parlow, who worked with Wythe at Homer Electric Association for 14 years, said though the results were not what they had hoped, he was proud of Wythe for staying true to her values throughout her campaign.
“I feel comfortable in the fact that Beth remained truthful and without exaggeration throughout the campaign,” Parlow said. “I certainly do appreciate the folks that did vote for Beth because I feel those folks supported a strong conservative values system. … She did not compromise the principles by which she lives. I am proud of her for taking an anti-marijuana stance and understand that the majority of the voters got their wish.”
Of 14,993 registered voters, and with all but one precinct counted, 2,744 voters turned out. At Homer precincts, voting was steady but not overwhelming throughout the day. The precinct at Homer City Hall marked a first: the use of a city-owned, handicap-accessible touchscreen voting machine. Visually impaired voter Rick Malley had filed a Human Rights Commission complaint claiming his voter rights were denied when there was not a touchscreen voting machine at the 2015 Kenai Peninsula Borough and city election. In response to Malley’s complaint, the city purchased a touchscreen voting machine and formed an Americans With Disabilities Act Compliance Committee. Malley voted in today’s election.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.