Why the $111m Anchorage school bond failed

Anchorage voters normally approve school bonds by double digits. This year it failed by over 1,000 votes.

On April 5th, 70,000 Anchorage voters went to the polls and largely voted to re-elect the majority coalition on the Anchorage Assembly. This year saw the most coordinated attempt to remove incumbent Anchorage assembly members in recent history, with every single major opponent being backed by the far-right group Save Anchorage (SA). With the exception of John Weddleton, an independent moderate conservative, every incumbent beat their SA challenger.

At the same time, Anchorage voters declined to sign off on a $111 million-dollar bond package to repair and replace aging infrastructure in the Anchorage School District. It included a relatively controversial $31m bond to replace Downtown’s Inlet View Elementary; district-wide roof replacements; millions for missing fire suppression systems and deferred maintenance; and other needed improvements.

The failure of this bond was surprising to many. School bond proposals usually pass by double-digit margins. The last school bond to fail, which totaled $49.2m in repairs and bus replacements, failed by a slim margin of 2% (just 230 votes!).

In the end, the 2022 school bond failed by 1.65% — or 1,144 votes. Now that precinct-level results are in, let’s take a look at what happened:

Mapping Anchorage’s support for school bonds

First, lets look at how Anchorage typically votes on school bonds. Precinct-level results for prior school bond propositions are available for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Below is a map of the average precinct vote on the school bond question for those years. The map is shaded by raw votes cast for/against the proposition, allowing us to see what areas cast the most votes:

Even in more conservative areas of town, school bonds typically have widespread support. For instance, fiscally conservative communities like Downtown Eagle River, Sand Lake, Taku-Campbell, and the Hillside almost always support these bonds (albeit by lower margins of support).

Comparing the 2018-2020 average vote to the 2022 school bond vote, this year saw a major reversion in support from almost every part of the municipality. The map below shows the difference in support between the average school bond vote and the 2022 school bond vote. The darker the red, the larger the decline in support for the school bond.

As you can see, support for the 2022 school bond dropped in nearly every precinct in Anchorage. The clearest reversion happened in District 2, with the top 3 precincts to swing against school bonds coming from the Eagle River area.

School bonds usually pass in Eagle River by a thin margin — an average of 500 votes. This year, it voted against the bond by nearly 1,500 votes. Remember, the 2022 bond failed by less than 1,200 votes total.

Other conservative areas in the Anchorage Bowl also expressed unique distaste for the 2022 bond compared to previous years, including the Abbott Loop-Dowling area and much of South Muldoon.

The only areas to match or outpace their average support for school bonds are also some of the most progressive precincts in Anchorage: lower Airport Heights in Midtown, Centennial Park in Northeast Muldoon, Forest Park in Turnagain, and parts of the Downtown Core.

Even community opposition to the rebuild of Inlet View Elementary didn’t stop the neighborhood from voting to approve the bond by a historically similar margin. Inlet View’s precinct has voted on average to pass school bonds by around 280 votes. This year, they voted to approve by 214 votes.

What sunk the 2022 bond?

The data tells us two stories: that conservative voters turned out against the proposition, and that many voters saw this year’s bond as different from previous bonds.

Generally, Anchorage voters don’t pay much attention to the bonds voted on every year. Our lack of awareness about bonds causes varied results because simple messaging can turn voters towards or against them. If you tell a lot of voters that a bond will raise their property taxes and push the tax cap, as Must Read Alaska has told their listeners and viewers this year, and they might revolt.

It is likely that the high price tag of this year’s bond ($111m) alienated low-information and low-turnout voters.

Its true that the partisan, high-turnout areas of Eagle River disproportionately turned out against the bond. However, wholesale support for the bond disappeared in communities that have always heavily supported them. There was no sophisticated campaign to educate or persuade these voters against the bond, so it’s not as if you can give the credit to Save Anchorage’s Assembly candidates for getting out the vote against it.

Instead, the bond failed because regular voters saw the highest price tag for a school bond in over a decade and didn’t feel it was justified. The average voter is tangentially concerned about government spending without a good reason to tolerate it. For instance, 2020’s school bond contained $82m in repairs, which was also a generally high-cost school bond. Context matters: voters probably sympathized with the cost of repairing over dozen aging elementary and high schools damaged by the 7.1 earthquake that rocked the municipality in late 2019.

Now, 2022 is the year of high prices and bloated budgets — inflation is a dominant concern among voters, as are major hikes in property assessments stemming from the housing crisis in Anchorage. It just wasn’t the year to try and pass an expensive bond package.

Weddleton Assembly map moves forward in unanimous vote

Weddleton’s map is now subject to amendments by members of the Assembly, which will be viewable by the public on March 14th

In an Assembly meeting on March 1st, the body voted unanimously to move forward Southside Assembly member John Weddleton’s map forward for consideration.

The vote followed months of public process led by the Anchorage Reapportionment Committee, Chaired by Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant. Ultimately, 4 maps were produced by the redistricting contractor RDI while 12 maps were produced by members of the public for a total of 16 maps up for consideration — more than any other reapportionment cycle in Anchorage’s history. Opportunities for public input on these maps included 10 public committee meetings, and 3 open town halls, and 2 chances to testify at Assembly meetings.

Though all 16 maps were thoroughly debated, the Reapportionment Committee has been slowly eliminating maps as the process has gone on. Weddleton’s map moved on from a final field of 4 maps, which included:

  • Map 6 Version 2 by Anchorage Action (drawn from feedback from dozens of members of the group)
  • Map 7 Version 2 by Robert Hockema (me)
  • Map 11 Version 2 by John Weddleton (drawn by Denny Wells, whose 3 maps submitted under their own name were rejected by the committee earlier in the process)
  • Map 12 by Eagle River-Chugiak Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and Mayor Dave Bronson (previously rejected due to failure to submit a properly formatted shapefile which illegally divided U.S. Census Blocks)

Following the vote to move Weddleton’s map forward, Assembly members had until March 7th to offer amendments to the map. These amendments will be published on the reapportionment website on Monday, March 14th, just one day before the last public hearing on March 15th.

A quick look at the map

Weddleton’s map looks a bit like a compromise map. Assembly members have voiced specific concerns about what areas go where on the map. For instance, Both members from Eagle River-Chugiak as well as South-Girdwood ruled out maps that paired the ER-Chugiak district with an area of Hillside.

Additionally, Midtown members Felix Rivera and Meg Zaletel expressed concern that core areas of Midtown were left out in almost all of the maps, especially Rogers Park and Airport Heights. Weddleton’s map unites all of Rogers Park, but leaves Airport Heights in the newly expanded Downtown district.

In order to accommodate these concerns, Weddleton’s map does a few things:

  • Downtown pushes East to take in all of North/South Mountain View, while moving south into Airport Heights, as well as south into areas of Fireweed and Spenard. It even takes in the Forest Park neighborhood, which includes West High School.
  • Midtown loses the Dimond area but pushes west to the border of Minnesota.
  • Most notable change is West’s district, which now pushes south of Campbell Lake to include over 7,000 people in Bayshore and Southport
Bayshore/Southport area south of the yellow line
  • Eagle River-Chugiak’s district was left underpopulated by 1,472 people, a deviation of -3.03%. It is by far the most under/overpopulated district in Weddleton’s map.
  • South’s district remains largely the same while taking in about 1,500 people from the Dimond area.
Partisanship impacts

Note: Politics are off limits during Committee and Assembly discussions of reapportionment, so it’s important to note that the following considerations are purely for analysis.

Weddleton’s map has an especially strong impact on West’s district because of the Bayshore-Southport pairing. Note, this is a less dramatic reach into Southside than the Allard/Bronson map (originally proposed by Deputy Chief of Staff for the Bronson administration Brice Wilkins).

2020: Trump +9.5, Composite 2016-2020: 11.9, Runoff 2021: Bronson +11.2

The new area drawn into Weddleton’s map votes solidly Republican, having voted for Trump by +9.5% in 2020. These communities are high turnout too, which means its guaranteed to influence the results of West’s Assembly races.

What does this do to the district as a whole? Not only does West’s district take in solidly conservative turf to the south, but it loses a precinct in West Anchorage that voted for Dunbar by +34%.

For context, West’s current district voted for Biden by +12% in 2020. Under the new map, West would have voted for Biden by +7%.

Likewise, West’s current district voted for Dunbar in Anchorage’s 2021 mayoral runoff by +7.5%. Under the new map, it would have voted for Dunbar by roughly+4.7%.

How will this impact the makeup of the Assembly? This would give conservatives a better shot at flipping the Assembly. The effect is that West would go from being as safely democratic as Midtown’s district (Biden +9.6, Dunbar +10) to a solidly democratic district such as East (Biden +7, Dunbar +5). In other words, West would still be an uphill battle for a far-right Save Anchorage-type conservative to win, but a strong candidate could flip a seat or two well before the next reapportionment cycle.

The process going forward

Assembly members submitted their amendments before March 7th, which will be posted for the public to view on Monday, March 14th. There are areas in Weddleton’s map that are likely to change based on the priorities Assembly members have for their districts. Wests members Austin Quinn-Davidson and Kameron Perez-Verdia may take issue with putting Forest Park and West High into Downtown; Midtown members Meg Zaletel and Felix Rivera have voiced the Airport Heights Community Council’s concern of being completely cut out of Midtown’s district. Though unlikely, the Bayshore/Southport pairing with West could be amended too.

3/14Amendments (if any) to proposed maps will be posted
3/15Public Hearing #3 at Regular Assembly Meeting, 6pm at Assembly
Chambers at Loussac Library
3/18Assembly Worksession on Reapportionment, 1-3pm at City Hall, Suite
155
3/23Special Assembly meeting re: Reapportionment and process for filling
new Assembly seat, 6pm at Assembly Chambers at Loussac Library
3/24Reapportionment Committee meeting (if needed), TBD at City Hall,
Suite 155
Remaining Assembly reapportionment timeline

Meet Anchorage’s first five draft Assembly maps

The addition of a 12th Assembly seat will shake up the current map significantly

The Anchorage Reapportionment Committee has made five draft Assembly maps available for the public to see and comment on. Reapportionment is the process of redrawing Anchorage’s six Assembly districts. The addition of a 12th Assembly seat passed by voters has triggered the city’s charter, mandating all districts be reapportioned. Read about the process in-depth here.

The Committee, made up of Christopher Constant (Downtown), Pete Peterson (East), Crystal Kennedy (Eagle River-Chugiak), and Austin Quinn-Davidson (West), published five proposals available on the reapportionment website. The first map was drawn by Constant, while the remaining four were drafted by Resource Data Inc., the contractor providing GIS and redistricting services to the city during this process.

As a note, new districts must be as close to 48,541 people as possible. The addition of a 12th assembly member will cause Downtown, the single-member district that is half the size of its neighbors, to balloon in coverage.

Here are the draft maps, which you can view by clicking each Draft layer one-by-one. You can also see what the current districts look like, and lay it over a new map to see what changes have been made. Every single district is numbered 1-6 to correspond with the Downtown (1), Eagle River-Chugiak (2), West (3), Midtown (4), East (5), and South (6) areas of Anchorage.

Map 1
Map drawn by Assembly member Christopher Constant
  • Downtown takes in JBER-Elmendorf and Airport Heights
  • Eagle River-Chugiak pulls in Girdwood, Indian, and Bird as well as Goldenview, Rabbit Creek, and Upper de Armoun
  • A fresh South district is formed by joining East/Lower Hillside, Bayshore-Klatt, parts of Jewel Lake, and Dimond Estates
  • West stays the same except for losing West Dimond’s neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • The map pairs Assembly members Constant and Dunbar in the same Downtown district
  • Downtown goes to Biden by 8 fewer percentage points, while Eagle River goes to Trump by 12 fewer. West gets a 5.5% bump for Biden, and East a 3% bump for Biden.
  • Notably, this map doesn’t split any precincts — meaning lines don’t cross natural voting precinct boundaries that have been being used in both muni elections and statewide elections for the last decade. The current Assembly map divides Airport Heights’ most northern precinct in half with north of Debarr’s belonging to Downtown and south belonging to Midtown.
Map 2
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown takes in Airport Heights and South Mountain View, as well as much of the core of Midtown
  • East gains the North Muldoon finger, which includes the Tikahtnu Mall that currently belongs to the Eagle River-Chugiak
  • Midtown dips below Dimond/Abbott to grab Independence Park and Lower Hillside.
  • West stays the same except for losing West Dimond’s neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in the same Downtown district; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together
  • West, East, and South get 3-4% bumps for Biden while Midtown gets a 2% bump for Trump
Map 3
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown dips below Chester Creek and adds upper Midtown, as well as steals Russian Jack and South Mountain View from Eastside
  • East gains the Tikahtnu finger, and now stretches south through Elmore all the way to Hillside.
  • Midtown loses Dimond, half of Abbott, and half of Campbell Creek. It also adds Independence Park.
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • South gains Stuckagain Heights
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together
  • West and South get a 4 and 6 point bump for Biden, while Midtown gets slightly more conservative
Map 4
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown takes in JBER to the north, South Mountain View and Russian Jack to the East, and Airport Heights and upper Midtown.
  • East loses far Northeast Muldoon to the Eagle River district, South Mountain View and Russian Jack to Downtown, and Stuckagain Heights to South. It now stretches west into U-Med in Midtown and also south into Elmore and a bit of Lower Hillside.
  • Midtown pushes west into Arctic and south into Independence Park
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton in Midtown
  • West, East, and South gets a 4-6% bump for Biden while Trump gains 3% in Midtown
Map 5
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown adds South Mountain View and Russian Jack to the East, and Airport Heights and upper Midtown.
  • East adds JBER-Elmendorf, U-Med area, and Far North Bicentennial
  • Eagle River-Chugiak adds North and South Muldoon
  • Midtown adds a large portion of Hillside
  • South gains Stuckagain Heights
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton in Midtown; Petersen with both Eagle River-Chugiak representatives (Allard & Kennedy)
  • Eagle River-Chugiak goes to Trump by 10 fewer percentage points while West and South get a 4-5% bump for Biden. Midtown goes to Biden by 4 fewer points.

What happens next?

On January 6th, the Reapportionment Committee will meet to review draft plans and prepare for their Town Halls. They will likely go over a new timeline for finishing the process, as the five maps released are a bit overdue. After the meeting, the next scheduled date is January 10th, which is the last day the public has to submit any map proposals of their own.

The Committee and Resource Data could rework these maps before taking them to town halls where residents can ask questions and voice concerns.

How do I get involved?

You can also attend the two town halls scheduled by the committee.

Virtual Town Hall January 26th, 6-8pmhttps://bit.ly/ReapportionmentTownHall01262022
In-Person Town Hall January 27th, 6-8pmWilda Marston Theatre, Loussac Library

You can also attend the next meeting on January 28th on Microsoft Teams.

Public Call In: (907) 519-0237​
Conference ID: 964 024 898​​#​

If you’d like to comment on any of the maps, use the portal on the committee website. It’s best to speak to the Assembly’s requirements when creating new districts, including compactness, contiguousness, relative socioeconomic integration, and districts of equal population (Anchorage Charter 4.01). 

Though I’ve included it for transparency and research, political data and the placement of Assembly members will almost certainly not be considered persuasive testimony.