Election day sees close council races, assembly upset

Oct 6, 2021

Municipal election day saw low voter turnout across the Kenai Peninsula Borough but a nail-biter for a Soldotna City Council seat, and a few upsets in the works.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday for in-person voting across the borough, but absentee, questioned and special-needs ballots still need to be counted before results are certified. Across the borough, 7,395 votes were cast on election day, which is about 14 percent turnout.
Seat C for the Soldotna City Council is one vote apart after election day, with challenger Micah Shields at 152 votes and incumbent Jordan Chilson at 151, and one write-in ballot.
City Clerk Shellie Saner says council seats need a simple majority, so the seat really could be decided by just one vote. But there’s still 135 absentee, questioned and special-needs ballots to be counted, as well as 25 by-mail ballots that could arrive in time for the canvass board meeting Oct. 12. So it likely won’t come down to that close a margin.
Chilson says he’s optimistic he’ll retain his seat.
“The election’s not over. There’s still a good number of absentee and mail-in ballots that need to be processed and I’m still optimistic that things will come out well, so until then we’ll be standing by and waiting for those numbers” Chilson said “I just gave it my best and was hopeful that things will come out OK. I think it’s gone well and I’m grateful for all the support that I’ve gotten the community. Everyone has been really, really supportive. I’m just excited to see where things go.”
Shields didn’t know what to expect in running for council, but certainly nothing this close.
“Well, it’s funny because it’s a city council seat and normally they go unopposed, so I really had no expectations either way,” Shields said. It’s a tough call when there’s not a whole lot of precedent for something like this.
If elected, Shields says he wants to see the city better support small businesses. Beyond that, he wants to be a voice for his community.
“I really just kind of want to serve the people. I have a lot of feedback from the citizens of Soldotna. I want to follow up with that. Most people right now just feel like they’re not being heard. And I don’t know why that is or even what that means but I’m just going to continue down that route,” he said.
Chilson also prioritizes support for small businesses, as well as trails and parks.
"Specifically focusing on development of our riverfront district with hopefully some enhanced walkability and small shop space down there by the river,” Chilson said.
For Soldotna Seat A, Linda Farnsworth Hutchings ran unopposed. For Soldotna Seat B, Dan Nelson is leading with 174 votes to Erick Hugarte, with 120. Hugarte was appointed in June to fill a term left by the resignation of Pamela Parker.
Nelson has experience working in government, most recently as director of the Office of Emergency Management for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. If his election day lead holds, Nelson says he’s looking forward to serving on the elected side of government.
“And I think that all the time that I spent in government administration is really helpful and, as I’ve said previously, having the experience of how government works, essentially, and how some of these things get done is really going to aid me from the legislative side. Being able to work with the administration and support them while really seeing the best way to move forward with things,” Nelson said.
For the Kenai City Council, five candidates ran for two council seats. Kenai votes at large for council, rather than per seat, as in Soldotna, so the top two vote-getters overall will be seated. After Election Day, Deborah Sounart is leading with 302 votes, followed by James Baisden with 279, Victoria Askin with 233, Alex Douthit with 203 and James Duffield with 47.
There are 171 ballots left to be counted by the canvass board on Oct. 12. Askin was the only incumbent, having been appointed to fill a seat left vacant by the resignation of Robert Peterkin last year.
Sounart thinks her 26 years as a music teacher in Kenai helped with name recognition. She also thinks voters responded to her conservative message.
“I think there’s somewhat of a backlash because of all the silencing of conservative thought, conservative ideas, conservative speech on a national level. It’s frightening and I think we’re realizing that in order to change that or to deal with that, basically, we have to turn our eyes to our local communities and just start being active and making our voices heard here,” Sounart said.
Baisden has name recognition, as well, having been a local fire chief and chief of staff for borough Mayor Charlie Pierce. He thinks that helped in his election results, as all the candidates were fairly similar in platforms.
“We were all pretty close, I think, in what we believed in. I think we all thought the city was in pretty good shape, and I would say that most of the candidates were pretty conservative candidates,” Baisden said.And we just want to go in and help the city grow, of course, and try to find new ways to make businesses successful.”
Baisden is also interested in 911 issues, whether to keep a call center local or combine with other agencies. Sounart says she’s particularly interested in land use in the city.
Baisden is feeling fairly confident his lead will carry through to certification.
“The absentee ballots, you know, typically don’t change too much with the tone of the election,” he said. “So I think, with what I’ve seen in the past, I think it’s a pretty safe number but, you know, it’s not official, so we’ll wait until it becomes official.”
Sounart also is optimistic but not certain of a win.
“What I have said from the get-go to family and friends is that if God wants me on the council, he’s going to put me on that council,” Sounart said. “And if he wants to close that door, he’ll close that door. It’s up to me to do my due diligence and work as hard as I can through the campaign. But, ultimately, it’s going to be God’s decision, so we’ll just wait and see, won’t we?”
For the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, incumbent Brent Hibbert ran unopposed for his Kaliforsnky District 1 Seat. He got 198 votes, with 16 write-ins.
In East Peninsula District 6, incumbent Kenn Carpenter is down 161 votes, with challenger Cindy Ecklund at 433 votes to Carpenter’s 272. In South Peninsula District 9, there was no incumbent, as Willy Dunn retired his seat due to term limits. Of the three challengers, Mike Tupper has a comfortable lead with 421 votes, to 258 for Ashton Callahan and 203 for Dawson Slaughter.
On the school board, Matthew Morse ran unopposed to his District 2 Kenai seat. In District 5, Sterling/Funny River, Jennifer Waller is leading Benjamin Miller by 61 votes — 211 to 150. And in District 8, Homer, Tim Daugharty has a 295-vote lead over Britny Bradshaw, 685 votes to 390.
The city of Homer saw 25 percent voter turnout. Three council seats are up for grabs.
Incumbent Councilwoman Donna Aderhold was reelected with 528 votes, while former Councilwoman Shelly Erickson received 607 votes to win the second seat available for a three-year term. Adam Hykes pulled in 271 votes to finish third.
Two incumbents faced off in the race for a one-year seat, left after a resignation. Jason Davis was appointed this summer and is in the lead after election day, with 470 votes to 425 for Heath Smith. Smith chose to forego a shot at another three-year term and opted to run for the one-year seat instead.
For the Seward City Council, John Osenga and Michael Calhoon are leading the votes for two available seats, ahead of Randy Wells and Leighton Radner.
The so-far unofficial election results are posted on the borough’s website, www.kpb.us.