The 2018 election results were mixed for educators and public education. NEA-Alaska members watched closely as Alaska elected a new Governor, re-elected Congressman Don Young and considerably changed the composition of the Alaska State House and Senate. Needless to say, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding how these new leaders will prioritize public education, but what is abundantly clear is that NEA-Alaska members must prepare to make their voices heard as a new administration and a new legislature take the reins of power.
Since the election, the Alaska House and Senate have been organizing majorities, wrangling over committee assignments, and laying the groundwork for the upcoming legislative session.
In the State Senate, Senator Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage) has been elected by her colleagues to serve as the Senate President. Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) will again serve as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
In the Alaska State House, the race for State House District 1 is currently separated by a single vote, and control of the Alaska State House could hang in the balance. A legal challenge to the outcome of this election is underway and could determine control of the Alaska State House.
The 2018 Election: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown.
Alaska voters elected a second retired educator to serve in the Alaska State House of Representatives. Representative-elect Sara Hannan of Juneau spent three decades in Juneau, including teaching high school for 21 years. Her district includes Downtown Juneau, Lemon Creek, Douglas Island, Skagway, Haines, Klukwan, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet. She has been active at the local association level, and also served as an NEA-Alaska Board Member. Representative-elect Hannan made education, and her experience as an educator, signature issues on her campaign and voters responded by electing her by a large margin.
Also in Southeast Alaska, Representative Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) was re-elected to represent Southern Southeast (Hydaburg, Hyder, Ketchikan, Loring, Metlakatla, Meyers Chuck, Saxman and Wrangell). Rep. Ortiz graduated from Ketchikan High School and eventually returned to teach at his alma mater for over 30 years. After this election cycle, Rep. Ortiz will be the last remaining Independent to serve in the Alaska State House.
NEA-Alaska UniServ Director Grier Hopkins was elected to the Alaska State House in Fairbanks. Grier was born in Fairbanks and is a product of Fairbanks public schools. Before his work advocating for educators at NEA-Alaska, Grier worked in the Alaska State Legislature. Grier is trained as a mediator and negotiator and his work with Alaska teachers and support staff will give him valuable insight in speaking to the issues that affect student learning and public education.
There were a number of tough losses for educators and public education this election.
Representative Jason Grenn, Independent of Anchorage was defeated in his bid for re-election. Representative Grenn had been named a “Friend of Education” by the Anchorage Education Association and was a public education champion. Rep. Grenn had made a special point to meet with educators from his district and spoke with conviction on the House floor about the specific issues and challenges he had heard from the teachers living in his district.
Representative Paul Seaton of Homer, a longtime Republican turned Independent was defeated in his bid for re-election. Last legislative session, Rep. Seaton championed the innovative “early funding” of education. This was a bipartisan effort to prevent the annual educator pink slips by passing the education budget early in the session. Rep. Seaton was thoughtful and articulate and his common sense approach to public education and budget expertise will be sorely missed.
Educators owe Governor Bill Walker a thank you for his four years of service and his commitment to public education. Ultimately, Alaska voters elected former State Senator Mike Dunleavy to be the 12th Governor of the State of Alaska. While Gov. Dunleavy’s public education agenda has yet to be released, there will be some continuity with the continuation of Alaska’s Education Challenge as he has opted to retain Commissioner Michael Johnson to lead the Department of Education and Early Development. Commissioner Johnson is the only commissioner who was kept from the Walker Administration.
With so many new faces in the Alaska Legislature and an entirely new administration, we will need to continue to be vigilant and review the new policies, budgets, and regulations that will be coming our way starting in January.
As always, we need to make sure our legislators are connected to the schools and educators in their communities. Consider inviting your legislator to school events, many would be eager to attend a concert, sporting event, pep rally, or spelling bee. Sign up for their electronic newsletters and follow them on social media. Consider sending your legislator an email congratulating them on their election and introducing yourself and the work you do every day to help Alaska kids succeed. It is easy for “education” to simply be a line item in a budget to legislators, and it’s up to us to establish real connections that make legislators view our schools, students, and professions through the lens of student learning and what that means to our communities.
Your voice makes a difference. Anyone who thinks otherwise need look no farther than Fairbanks, where one single vote separates the two candidates in State House District 1. Regardless of your party, politics, or preferred candidate, it’s time to move past the election and focus on uniting around the common cause of public education.
It is time to come back together as Alaskans, use our collective voice to advocate for our students and our profession, and renew our commitment to making public education the best it can possibly be for each and every child in Alaska.