Younger and more progressive candidates are poised to sweep the open seats in the assembly, mayoral and planning commission elections in Haines, held on Tuesday.
“I think there’s a dissatisfaction in the general population about how the government has been operating,” said Tom Morphet, who won the mayoral race with about 53% of the vote. “I think I was able to tap into that.”
Morphet’s win was bolstered by a trio of new public office candidates running for the three vacant assembly seats: Kevin Forster, Craig Loomis and Natalie Dawson. The three campaigned together, taking out ads in CVN, that ultimately let them cruise to victory over their opponents, incumbent Jerry Lapp and Diana Lapham.
In the planning commission race, new candidates Erika Merklin, Patty Brown, Brian O’Riley, Derek Poinsette, Rachel Saitzyk, Eben Sargent and Dan Schultz appeared in the lead, with about 30 votes that could still be counted as of Tuesday morning.
Those candidates bested incumbent Richard Clement, Scott Hansen and Rodney Hinson. Sargent led Hansen by just six votes as of Tuesday evening, meaning the final seat could flip before counting is over. Borough clerk Alekka Fullerton said the 29 remaining votes include question votes by people who presented themselves at the precinct on Tuesday but didn’t appear on voter rolls, as well as mail-in ballots that need to be postmarked by Tuesday. The assembly will canvas on Tuesday, Oct. 10 to finalize the count, after which candidates can challenge results before new candidates are sworn-in on Oct. 24.
Fullerton said overall, the election went smoothly with no complaints.
“Everything balanced to the vote as it always does. I would not have gone to sleep if it hadn’t,” she said.
The planning commission election was the first ever for the borough, which until a citizens’ initiative this spring, saw commissioners appointed by the Mayor. Proponents of the elected planning commission said the win was a result of opposition about planning commission decisions to grant heliport permits in mostly residential areas.
Morphet said that during the campaign, the issue of the proposed Palmer Project mine 35 miles north of Haines loomed large on many voters’ minds, but he acknowledged he didn’t really know the reason for his win.
“I wish I knew,” he said.
Dawson, running in her first local election, downplayed the move to more progressive candidates. She emphasized her focus on transparent and representative government after hearing from voters who felt they’d been excluded.
“We often pin it into left versus right ways but in local communities those boundaries get blurred,” she said.
She pointed to her desire to work more closely with tribal governments, as well as younger people concerned about jobs and commercial fishermen.
Forster echoed the emphasis on transparency in local government.
“Incumbents were relying heavily on past experience and almost striving for the past or at least using the past as a blueprint for the future,” he said. “The new ones were asking for more transparency.”
1,147 ballots have been counted so far, over 100 more than last year’s election.