Stutes now running unopposed for House seat

Pete Hoepfner of Cordova, withdrew from House District 32 race (photo: Alaska Association of School Boards)

The race for Kodiak’s one House seat in the Alaska legislature just got a little bit easier for incumbent Louise Stutes this year, a race that may reveal a strategy by Alaska Democrats to preserve a bipartisan House majority.

Representative Stutes is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the seat, but does have a Democratic challenger, Pete Hoepfner from Cordova. That is, until Hoepfner unexpectedly ended his campaign last week.

“For years I have been interested in running for this seat.”

Hoefpner’s candidacy wasn’t about a referendum on Stutes’s policies. In fact, Hoepfner supports Stutes as District 32’s representative.

“I do agree with a lot of what Louise stands for as well. That was a problem in and of itself, is I do enjoy Louise and her stances on most every topic that comes up.”

Hoepfner, a fisherman and school board member, said that he ran because he was concerned that the Republican party was going to run a much more conservative candidate against Stutes in the primary. In 2018, Stutes, a centrist Republican who caucuses with the House majority, defeated Kodiak’s Rich Walker, a Republican party-backed challenger, in a tough primary race. Stutes ultimately prevailed in a close general election.

“I just wanted a viable candidate to be there in that position just in case that did occur.”

This will be Stutes’s first uncontested election, and she feels:

“Fabulous. It makes me feel like the people that I represent have some confidence in me.”

Hopefner’s departure from the House race may seem odd since Alaska Democratic party right now has some momentum. On the statewide election scene, Alyse Galvin who is running against Republican Representative Don Young, and is supported by the Democrats, is out-fundraising and polling ahead of Young.   And Al Gross, a democrat, is also polling closely with Dan Sullivan for a US Senate seat.

Of the seven Republican and Independent House Majority incumbents, including Stutes, three don’t have a Democratic challenger. The four Republicans who would have a Democratic opponent in the general election are facing primaries against candidates who are more conservative.

So keeping a Democratic candidate in those races acts as insurance for keeping the bipartisan majority.

So why withdraw from the race? Hoepfner said that, once he saw that Stutes would not be primaried by a more conservative candidate supported by the Republican Party after all, he considered bowing out.

And the Alaska Democratic party might have helped convince Hoepfner to withdraw, too.

“The democratic party, did they play a role in it? A little bit, I suppose.”

So does Representative Stutes consider Hoepfner’s exit from the race as an endorsement from the Alaska Democratic party?

“I do not. I am a Republican and I’ve been a Republican since I was registered to vote. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to work across the aisle because that’s the only way you’re going to get anything accomplished.”

Even though this year’s campaign didn’t work out for him, Hoepfner has not ruled out future runs for legislative office.

“One of my big things, and Louise is doing that too, is getting a stable fiscal budget. That’s been ongoing for six or seven years now. Getting some new revenue, the state needs to move forward. As well as funding of education, and services for Alaskans. I guess those are kind of big things to me.”

Requests for a statement from the Alaska Democratic party have not yet been returned.

The 2020 general election day is Tuesday, November 3. The deadline to register to vote is Sunday, October 4.

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