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Story Last modified at 10:46 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Too close to call

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

Eagle River's Katy McCormick, left, fills out her ballot while daughter Ella, who is nearly 6 and a half years old, works on a sample ballot on April 5 during the municipal election at the Alpenglow Elementary polling station.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth

Neither candidate in the race for Seat C on the School Board was ready to call the election Tuesday night.

"It's not over yet," said incumbent Pat Higgins.

With all but one precinct in, Higgins led by fewer than 200 votes over Bob Griffin, an Eagle River airline pilot. With 120 of 121 precincts counted, Higgins had 17,113 votes (47.29 percent) to Griffin's 16,927 (46.77 percent) in unofficial results released on the municipality's Web site.

Griffin said he wants to wait until absentee and write-in votes are counted before deciding whether to concede or ask for a recount.

"I'm not gonna discount any possibilities," he said.

However, Griffin did acknowledge that Higgins' lead would be difficult to overcome.

"It's a pretty tough row to hoe," he said.

The tight race was one of the most hotly contested of the school board election, with Griffin leveling attacks of high administration costs and overspending by the board, and Higgins countering with claims that Griffin's numbers were fishy.

"You had a constant barrage of misinformation and in some cases outright lies," by both Griffin and fellow board candidate for Seat D, Treg Taylor, Higgins said.

Higgins said Griffin and Taylor fudged the numbers to make it look like the district's administrative costs were rising when they really weren't. He also said the candidates put up illegal campaign signs.

"It's been a frustrating campaign," Higgins said.

Griffin didn't see things the same way. He said he's simply more fiscally conservative than Higgins and wanted to see more accountability on the board.

"It's been a tough campaign, but I don't know of anything that we've published that was inaccurate," he said.

A third candidate in the race, Dustin Darden, got about 5 percent of the vote.

Eagle River engineer Art Ronimus said the idea of "new faces" on the board attracted him to the Taylor/Griffin camp.

"Increased fiscal responsibility and accountability is necessary in these days and times," he said. "Those people will help keep it in check.

Superintendent Carol Comeau said Higgins has been a strong member of the board and said she'd be happy to work with him again.

"He's been a passionate advocate for career and technical education as a way to combat dropout rates and I think that resonated with the voters," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with him for the next three years."

Turnout in the election across the municipality was low, with just one out of every five registered voters turning out on a day that included periodic snow showers across the municipality.

Not everyone stayed home, however.

In an election that included school board seats and school bond measures, it was fitting that some involved in the April 5 election took the time to do a little teaching.

Longtime poll workers at Alpenglow Elementary said turnout was slow – one mimed a yawn to emphasize the point – but kept themselves busy handing out sample ballots to curious youngsters.

"Maybe the president will come from here," said poll worker Debbie Hurley.

Hurley explained that when they give sample ballots to children, poll workers also try to explain the election process. It's their way of helping the next generation of voters become familiar with the voting process.

"That way when they come to vote, it's not such a foreign thing to them," Hurley said.

Eagle River's Katy McCormick stopped by Alpenglow to pick up kindergartner Ella and filled out a ballot in the process. While filling out her real ballot, Katy let Ella fill out her own.

After getting a quick lesson in how to use a pink sample ballot, Ella carefully filled in her ovals perfectly with a black pen. But she still seemed skeptical about the merits of the electoral process.

"It's pretty boring," she said.

Guess snatches School Board Seat D

Former Alaska legislator Gretchen Guess swept the Anchorage School Board Race for Seat D Tuesday, capturing nearly 48 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results. Her closest competition came from Treg Taylor, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility.

"Anytime you win an election, it's pretty humbling," Guess said Tuesday night. "All of us had a civil discourse, and it was a great campaign."

With Steiner's departure, the Board loses one of two Eagle River members, but Guess said she would work hard to represent the needs of all voters, both in Eagle River and Anchorage.

"I want to respond to the community and respond to people's individual stories and make the system work for everyone," she said. "I've met with John and talked with John, so part of it is making sure I have connections to the leaders to the community in Eagle River."

School superintendent Carol Comeau said she is looking forward to working with Guess.

"Gretchen Guess will do a very good job on our board," she said. "She did an admirable job in the Senate and the House, and I think she will be a real asset."

Zaz Hollander and Melissa DeVaughn contributed to this story.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.