Jim Matherly’s win in the Fairbanks municipal election is important for the Alaska Republican Party and should be studied carefully for what it means for the party going forward. The Republican Party if it is going to remain a force in state politics has to have an active presence in urban areas of the state. It cannot retreat from urban political engagement because it is supposedly hard for Republicans to get elected in urban areas or because the Democrats cannot be defeated.
For a number of years there has been an attitude within the Republican Party that urban areas of the state are becoming more progressive and it is a waste of time to invest money and time into getting Republicans elected to school boards or city councils. The focus should be only on state races and the federal elected offices and this attitude of the last few chairmen of the Republican Party has not served the party well and is not based on any real analysis.
The reality is that the reason why so many city councils and school boards have gone over to the Democrats in this state is because of the fact that the Republican party has not been organized when it comes to urban campaigning.
What Jim Matherly’s win in Fairbanks shows is that Republicans can win if they have an organizational structure behind them to get them over the finish line, even in a tough campaign. Fairbanks Republicans did two things that put Mayor Matherly on the road to victory: raising money and, even more critically, getting people to the polls.
The second part happened with amazing outreach on the part of Republican Party district chairs and activists going around the community with voter guides explaining where Matherly stood on the issues affecting Fairbanks. In particular, there was a serious effort to go to churches around Fairbanks and educate Christians on where he stood on family values and that mobilized a large voter base for him. Aside from the victory that Mayor Matherly had there were also victories with Republicans getting elected to the city council who ran on the same platform that he did. The big question now is if the leadership of the Alaska Republican Party working in conjunction with party activists across the state will export the Fairbanks model to borough and municipal races across the state.
If the leadership does so this will mean victories in local races across the state and the implementation of a conservative policy agenda at the borough and municipal level. It also means the party would be building a bench of elected officials who could go on and run for state legislative offices and replace current office holders who are looking to retire. The leadership of the Republican Party has a major task ahead on this front but anything worth doing is going to be hard but as long as party district leadership across the state is engaged the future is very bright.