How Homer’s House District changes under the new map

A less friendly district and an unpopular incumbent governor give non-Republicans a narrow opening to unseat incumbent Sarah Vance (R – Homer).

Over the years, the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough has typically been divided into a (1) South Kenai district based out of Homer, a Soldotna-Kenai district, and an Upper Kenai seat that stretches all the way up to the tip of Turnagain Arm. Sometimes Seward or the Kachemak Bay get thrown into the district as well.

During the latest redistricting process, the Alaska Redistricting Board drew some controversial drafts of this district. Early versions surgically removed most of Fritz Creek, which makes up about a fifth of the greater Homer area just 10-15 minutes outside of town. The maps joined Fritz Creek with Kodiak’s district, which is 140 miles away by water.

A prior draft cutout of Fritz Creek from the South Kenai district and into the Kodiak district (view in detail here)

The Fritz Creek cutout received criticism from local residents during the Board’s stop in Homer during their series of town halls. Thankfully, the final map opted to keep Fritz Creek with Homer. So, what changes were made to the district?

The old HD-31

From 2013-2020, South Kenai’s district stretched from Homer and ran all the way up through Kasilof, stopping just before the bridge over the Kenai River into Soldotna.

Below, you can see which areas contained more voters:

Area Voting-Age Persons (VAP) Share of District
Homer7,32946.50%
Anchor Point1,95112.30%
Ninilchik1,2788.11%
Kasilof/Funny River2,90427.40%
Fox River8625.47%
Total15,751

The old HD-31 has been solidly Republican due to the dominance of voters from Kasilof/Funny River and Anchor Point. Kasilof is a recreational sporting and fishing hotspot just outside of the ultra-conservative Soldotna, which has many commercial fishing and oil workers.

Anchor Point is just 20 minutes north of Homer, but it’s similar to Eagle River’s relationship to Anchorage. Many Anchor Point residents work and send their kids to school in Homer, but dislike the political and social culture enough to want to live just outside. All of this is to say: there is a distinct political subculture in Anchor Point compared to Homer.

At the state level, the old House District 31 voted relatively moderately. It broke against the incumbent Republican Governor Sean Parnell in 2014 and instead chose the unity ticket of Bill Walker (I) and Byron Mallot (D) by just+5%. In the Legislature, the seat was held by Rep. Paul Seaton, a moderate Republican who had represented the South Kenai seat since 2002. In 2016, Seaton formed a small alliance of other moderate Republican legislators in the House to join Democrats and Independents in forming a multi-partisan Majority Coalition. He strongly supported an income tax and was persuadable on many social issues such as sex education. He was also in favor of reforming oil tax credits to make companies pay more.

However, the district took a sharp turn in 2018 when it kicked out Seaton in a landslide. Sarah Vance, who was heavily involved in an unsuccessful political recall of Homer City Council members in 2017, beat Seaton by a whopping +10%. Seaton lost support among Republicans for a variety of reasons, but chief among them were likely his push for an income tax and his choice to run as a non-partisan under the Democratic primary in 2020 rather than facing a Republican challenger.

The new HD-6

South Kenai’s new district is similar, but now includes the communities along the Kachemak Bay. Reachable only by boat, they include Seldovia Village and Halibut Cove, both familiar to Homer residents who have travelled across the Bay on the Rainbow Connection or the Danny J. The Bay was previously in a district with Kodiak and Yakutat, and now joins a far more socioeconomically connected district.

However, the Native communities of Nanwalek and Port Graham are left out of the district with the Bay and kept with other Native communities in the Dillingham-Bristol Bay-Aleutians district.

Additionally, most of Funny River — about 1,400 voting-age people — have left South Kenai’s district and have been absorbed by the greater Upper Kenai district. Here’s the new makeup of the South Kenai district:

Area Voting-Age Persons (VAP) Share of District
Kachemak Bay4342.94%
Homer7,32949.66%
Anchor Point1,95112.30%
Ninilchik1,2788.66%
Kasilof/Funny River2,90419.68%
Fox River8625.84%
Total15,751

Homer voters now represent3.16%more of the district, while Kasilof/Funny River voters make up7.72%less. Anchor Point now makes up about1%more. As a result, the overall district now leans less conservative.

For instance, the new HD-6 voted for Trump by+12%, a shift to Democrats of about+3.5%from the old HD-31.

What does this mean for Rep. Sarah Vance’s re-election chances?

Beating Paul Seaton in 2018 was a big upset, but it’s worth noting just how circumstantial the victory was. Seaton represented Homer for 16 years and has held his position on the statewide income tax for quite some time now. What changed?

As the state’s fiscal crisis unfolded, former Governor Bill Walker vetoed half of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in 2016 to help fill the massive $4 billion state budget gap. After elections that same November, the House Majority Coalition was formed and has cut a portion of the PFD every year since. This pretext is what allowed for former State Senator Mike Dunleavy to run his entire campaign on paying out a huge Dividend to disgruntled voters. Candidates like Sarah Vance rode the coattails of this backlash in 2018 against the multi-partisan governing coalition, a regression that continued into 2020 as several more moderate Republicans were successfully primaried by pro-Dunleavy conservatives. The current coalition holds onto its majority 21-19, with just one vote to spare. There used to be as many as 25 members of the coalition.

In 2020, Vance won again by 2 points less than in 2018. Now, she faces re-election in a district that has over hundreds fewer hard-right conservative voters to rely on. At the same time, Dunleavy is running for re-election as an unpopular incumbent, which could Republican enthusiasm and thus turnout. The entire reason Vance got elected could be the reason she loses it this time.

However, the district is stillLean Republican. Since Homer is only about 60-40 Democratic, its just not enough to carry the entire district. The best chance to unseat Vance is a less radical Republican or Independent candidate like Kelly Cooper, who challenged Vance in 2020 and is expected to file for a re-match. Working against her challenger is a national midterm environment that usually punishes the party in the White House during off-year elections. This could harm turnout of moderate and liberal voters Cooper would need to beat Vance.

The question is whether Dunleavy’s unpopularity will sink Republican turnout enough to drag his House Minority allies down with him. Even if Dunleavy still wins re-election, doing so by only 1-4 points instead of 8 could spoil a few close races.

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