Election Day in Bristol Bay

Nov 8, 2016

Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) reelected with 58 percent of the vote; may be tapped for leadership in state house if bipartisan coalition established.

Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) was reelected with 58 percent of the HD 37 vote. His challenger William Weatherby (R-King Salmon) says he may try again in another two years.
Credit Sam Gardner / KDLG

KDLG, Wednesday morning update: House District 37 votes were tallied by 4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, showing incumbent Bryce Edgmon was reelected by a comfortable margin. With all 35 precincts reporting, Edgmon received 2141 votes (58 percent) to Republican challenger William Weatherby's 1492 votes (41 percent).

"It was a tough campaign, no question about it," Edgmon said early Wednesday morning by phone from Anchorage. "I was running against an opponent who essentially ran on one message, and used social media very effectively to put that message forward, and to his credit he worked very hard.”

Weatherby's most potent line of attack had been accusing Edgmon of supporting the cut of this year's Permanent Fund dividend checks in half, a move Governor Walker did on his own after the Legislature chose not to. Edgmon says that was a tough message to run against as the incumbent, even as he took issue with the validity.

"I’m pretty sure we saw that in a lot of the results there were people that were confused, some were very unhappy with me, and others who I think got it and were eagerly supporting my experience and my seniority down in Juneau."

As a member of the House Finance Committee, Edgmon did vote to advance a set of fiscal reforms, including the use of Permanent Fund earnings, to the House floor. He says he would have voted against cutting the PFD had the measure come up on the House floor, which it never did.

Following the Alaska primaries and Tuesday's general elections, the Republicans might have lost their majority caucus. If a bipartisan working group or coalition is formed this week, Edgmon could find himself in a leadership position, perhaps even house speaker.

"I think there’s a definite opportunity that that could be the case. We’ll know more here in a day or two," he said. "I’m excited about returning to Juneau on the one hand, and on the other hand I’m preparing myself for easily the most difficult session that we may ever have faced, because there’s no question in my mind that we have to confront this fiscal reality."

During his campaign, Edgmon invited Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck and Legislative Finance Director David Teal to the region to talk with voters about the fiscal challenges the state faces. Neither minces words about the tough decisions that must be made to balance the state's books, including the use of Permanent Fund earnings to help plug an estimated $4 billion deficit.

Edgmon will be starting his sixth term representing the district. He first got into office after unseating longtime legislator Carl Moses. The two tied in the 2006 primary, but an official coin toss that year went in Edgmon’s favor, and he went on to win the general election in November.

In Unalaska Wednesday morning, William Weatherby was conciliatory in his defeat. "Congratulations to Bryce Edgmon," he said. "I hope he sticks by some of the statements he's made about the Permanent Fund dividend. And I hope he does well in this next session and gets a lot done, and lives up to the expectations people have for him."

Weatherby campaigned hard over the last month, going village to village and door to door. He finished his efforts in Unalaska, being offered a place to stay by a voter he had struck up a conversation with. After watching the precinct tally its ballots Tuesday evening, he watched the election results at the home of his new friend till early Wednesday. Weatherby was humbled by the support he earned from voters across the district.

"I can't thank them enough. I met so many wonderful people and when you talk with someone and then they look you in the eye say 'I'll vote for you,' it means a lot. It's given me encouragement."

Weatherby said he is interested in running again in two years and will plan to visit more of the district next time.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.8251.

At the Dillingham senior center election watching party, the atmosphere grew a little somber and subdued as the electoral map filled in late Tuesday.
Credit KDLG News

Wednesday Afternoon Update

How did District 37 vote? Here's a break down from the Alaska Division of Elections Unofficial Results:

  • Out of the 10,008 registered voters, 3833 cast ballots in the 2016 General Election. That's 38%.
  • Donald Trump (R) won 37% of votes for US President. Hillary Clinton (D) won 46% of votes.
  • There were 111 write-in votes.
  • Lisa Murkowski (R) collected 59% of votes for US Senate. 20% went to Joe Miller (Lib), 11% to Ray Metcalfe (D), and 8% to Margaret Stock (I).
  • Don Young (R) won 56% of votes for U.S. House of Representatives. Steve Lindbeck (D) won 33% of votes.
  • Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) won re-election to the House District 37 seat in the Alaska House of Representatives by 650 votes over challenger, William Weatherby (R-King Salmon).

Watching mom vote just after doors opened at Dillingham's polling site Tuesday.
Credit KDLG News

Manning the poll in Port Heiden Tuesday.
Credit Courtesy of Port Heiden Village Council

KDLG, ELECTION DAY coverage:  The doors at polling sites across the 49th state opened at 7:00 a.m.

In Dillingham, a north wind drove wind chills into the lower single digits as a vote-before-work crowd filed in to city hall.

“It’s a freedom and a liberty that we have, and we should take advantage of it,” said Denise Gregoire, who works at Southwest Region Schools.

“It’s discouraging when we have elections that present us with results that people aren’t happy with and then we find out how few actually got out and voted,” said Terry Fuller, a member of the Togiak NWR staff.

Making America adorable again. Outside Dillingham polling site.

The choices for who to represent House District 37 dropped by a third after it was revealed that write-in candidate Stanley Swetzof from Naknek did not file his official letter of intent in time.

“I’m disappointed in myself,” Swetzof says. “I want to apologize to all the people that’s had a lot of support for me. I’m heartbroken.”

Phillip Pavela voted today in New Stuyahok.
Credit Faith Andrew

There didn't appear to be any poll watchers in Dillingham. Or were there?

Terry Fuller was the first in line to cast his vote in Dillingham. He didn’t say who he was voting for, but he had much in mind as he cast his ballot.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” says Fuller, “I guess I tend to focus more on social issues, but probably like a lot of other people, there just doesn’t seem to be a good choice.”

Fuller’s sentiments were common among voters early Tuesday in Dillingham. But make choices they did as they filed in before going to work:

  • “I’d like to see Bryce Edgmon back in Juneau. I think he’s done a wonderful job for us. And I would also like to see Lisa Murkowski back in the Senate.” –Chris Napoli
  • “This emails with Hillary and her lying about it—so that’s why I voted. I voted for Donald Trump.”– Ivan Sam
  • “I voted for Hillary Clinton. I voted for Lisa Murkowski. I voted for Steve Lindbeck, and I voted for Bryce. So a little bit of a mix.” – Kimberly Williams
  • “I firmly believe that a national leader in this day in age needs to have international connections, understanding, and a feeling for what is going on in the world more than ever before I the history of mankind…I think that Hillary Clinton is the only choice here.” –Matteo Guarino
  • “Trump is the guy that may change America, make America great again.” –Lecia Scotford.

While voters who spoke with KDLG this morning were divided on their politics and preference among candidates, there was unanimous opinion shared on one idea.

“It is very, very important to exercise the right to vote,” says Andrea Budbill, “especially for people here in rural Alaska. We don’t always have that much of a voice, and even if the polls are still open by the time we know who is president, the local elections are not—they’re not figured out. So who we vote for really does count.”

Gusty Blunka voted in New Stuyahok Tuesday.
Credit Faith Andrew

In Igiugig, the goal is to get to 100 percent turnout. As of 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, they were closing in on that target quickly.

“The day’s gone well, everyone’s been excited. We’ve been actively getting people to vote for the last few days, and right now we have a total of 27 out of 31 people in our village that have voted," said Ida Nelson at the Igiugig Village Council. Of the last four, she thinks one or two may still show, and one or two may be out of town.

William Weatherby, a Republican from King Salmon running for the district 37 House Seat, has been campaigning outside of his normal cell phone service range and impossible to reach for days. KDLG news spoke with him Tuesday afternoon.

“I am in Unalaska. I’ve been here for about a week,” Weatherby said by phone. “I’ve been campaigning, knocking on doors. I tried to get to Akutan but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so I did some more knocking on doors last night. Pouring down rain, but I’ve been enjoying it. There’s so many nice people I’ve met. People are quite interested in what I have to say. It’s been a very enjoyable campaign.”

William Weatherby took his campaign on the road the last several weeks, ending up in Unalaska for election day (pictured here).
Credit Courtesy of William Weatherby

What's Weatherby's closing argument with voters?

“I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’re not happy with the inaction in the Legislature. I’m looking forward to be a driving force to getting work done in regular session. Hopefully we won’t ever have to go to special session, we’ll just get it done. I’ve heard from a lot of people that are very adversely affected by only getting half their PFD this year. I’m looking forward to helping pass a bill to mail out the other half of the PFD just as soon as we can get that done.”

Bryce Edgmon was in Dillingham Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve spent the last few days focusing on the Bristol Bay region where historically I’ve done quite well," he said. "I’ve had to backtrack and rebut a false message from my opponent who has been claiming all campaign season long that I voted to cut the PFD in half. So I spent the last week or so largely going to communities around the western Bristol Bay part of the district.”

On the streets of Dillingham Tuesday morning.

Edgmon has been making a closing argument with voters over the past few days and Tuesday as well.

“Well I think the difference between myself and my opponent is pretty clear. I’ve got experience down in Juneau. I’ve got senior status both in the rural delegation and the House Finance Committee," he said. "I think that distinction is very clear between myself and my opponent, an individual who’s never been to Juneau, never been to a meeting, never made a motion to my knowledge. So I think that’s in the hands of the voters right now, I wish him well, and certainly we’ll both be watching the outcome here in a few hours.”

Polls remain open until 8 p.m. tonight.

5th graders at Dillingham Elementary School hosted a school-wide election Tuesday. The results were tallied quick and showed Hillary Clinton a clear winner for president.
Credit KDLG News

5th graders at Dillingham Elementary School hosted a school-wide election Tuesday. The results were tallied quick and showed Hillary Clinton a clear winner for president.
Credit KDLG News

There were no reports of vote rigging at Dillingham Elementary's mock election Tuesday, which relied on tried-and-true pencil and paper ballots.
Credit KDLG News
Vera Gust voted in New Stuyahok today.
Credit Faith Andrew
High schoolers took a field trip to check out the polling site in Dillingham Tuesday afternoon.
Credit KDLG News

KDLG's Dave Bendinger and Avery Lill contributed to this report.