Ask Bill Evans why any voter sick and tired of the anti-business arrogance of Anchorage’s city fathers should vote for him and he’ll say it’s because he’s the only candidate in the mayor’s race who can beat Forrest Dunbar in a runoff.
That’s probably true. But what is also probably true is that when the mail-in votes are counted on April 6, Evans won’t have made it to the finals four weeks later against the progressive, young second-term assembly member Dunbar.
A recent poll conducted by an independent organization, and obtained by the Anchorage Press, shows Dunbar indeed out in front of the 15 candidates registered with 20 percent; Dave Bronson follows with 14 percent, Bill Falsey has 9 percent, Mike Robbins 8 and Evans 6.
A much-less scientific poll posted on anchoragepress.com on Monday shows Bronson getting 54 percent support, which is of course not at all accurate, but does show the kind of passion the ultra-conservative Bronson, backed by the Save Anchorage Facebook Group and ‘3REICH’ license plate-supporting assembly member Jamie Allard, has behind him.
Evans, a labor attorney representing management for more than 20 years in Anchorage, and a member of the assembly from 2014-17 is one of three candidates with a realistic shot at winning who represent what might be considered the Conservative side of the bracket going into the April 6 election.
With so many candidates in the race it is highly unlikely any will reach the 45 percent bar required to avoid a runoff four weeks later. Only the top two vote-getters will make it through and it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Dunbar will be one of those with a much easier road to the championship on the Progressive draw.
“You have to be able to do substantially well with the middle in Anchorage and any candidate who can’t do that can’t beat Forrest,” Evans said. “There’s many in the middle who don’t want Forrest and if (the conservative candidate) doesn’t have that kind of background, it looks pretty good for Forrest.”
Evans’ moderate and sensible approach should help his candidacy, especially in what is technically a non-partisan race. But take a look at American politics these days — especially within the Republican Party — and ask whether a voice of reason has any shot at all.
“I’m a fiscal conservative, and when I was on the Assembly, I was in the Republican Party,” Evans said. “I think people view me to the right of center, perhaps… People view me as a centrist and I don’t think that’s unfair. There’s candidates much further to my right and to the left, so I’m a bit of an island unto myself in the middle.”
Somehow, Evans has to find a way to convince conservative-leaning voters to pick him over the Covid-denying radical Bronson and the almost-as-conservative Mike Robbins, a longtime media mogul in the Anchorage market, who shares much of the Trumpian idealism of Bronson, but in a more amicable, business-friendly — and maybe even just friendly — way.
Evans is convinced that ultimately, an April 6 vote for Robbins or Bronson is really a vote for Dunbar.
“My knowledge of Forrest is that he’s pretty anti-business,” Evans said. “His base — and he has a large base of followers — are among a group that views business very suspiciously. He’s introduced some measures that are not helpful toward creating an atmosphere that attracts business to your city. Forrest looks over what he wants the city to look like, with bike paths and things like that. Those are all good things, but what he doesn’t seem to realize is that in order to get there you need the economic engine on the private side that you can tax to pay for those things.”
Evans, who grew up a Democrat, became a Republican but has since renounced any party affiliation, is hoping the voter base in Anchorage are as tired of the relentless partisanship as he has.
“I think a lot of people are tired of the extreme partisanship, the rancor, and inability to get things done, especially if you look at what took place over the last several months,” Evans said. “I think people are looking for a much more balanced or normal approach to government. The muni is a little different than state and federal — it’s more of a nuts-and-bolts kind of job — getting the streets clean, getting things done. It’s often said that when you’re picking up garbage, there’s not a liberal or conservative way to do it, there’s just an effective or ineffective way of doing it. I want to be focused on the problems and not talking about big, cultural issues that divide us.”
That’s sensible logic, to be sure, but it may only be fantasy in times like these.
Evans has received heavy blowback from social conservatives, chiefly from the leader of that faction, Jim Minnery from the Alaska Family Council, who blasted out an email last week titled: ‘Why Bill Evans Should Not Be The Next Mayor Of Anchorage.’
Evans is most vilified by the religious right for drafting and supporting a civil rights bill that bolstered the rights of LGBT individuals in the city code.
In his email, in which he accuses Evans of going back on his promise in 2014 to oppose including the words ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ in city code, Minnery said, “Although he is gaining some traction in terms of “heavy hitters” in the Republican establishment joining his campaign recently, Evans does not deserve the support of social conservatives or, for that matter, anyone who cares about honesty and integrity.”
Evans assumes that if he can get past Robbins and Bronson, that hard right voting base will support him against Dunbar, but he knows he’ll need to win more than a few of them to get through the semifinals.
“Jim (Minnery) doesn’t like me because on the assembly I introduced and led a charge for an equal rights amendment. There’s a good story on why I did that and I defend that to this day. It’s one of the things I’m proud of that I’d done on the assembly,” Evans said. “Everybody called that the ‘bathroom bill’ because they want to focus on where transgender people go to the bathroom, but that’s such a minor part of what we did. But it’s that great cultural divide designed to whip people up. There are some social conservatives who won’t vote for me, but once it’s between me and Forrest it will be a different dynamic. There’s also some social conservatives who are not particularly comfortable with that issue, but they want to win the race… Even if I may not be the darling of social conservatives, I can get fiscal conservatives who want a mayor who’s at least centered and not going to be more progressive than they’d like.”
Though he doesn’t carry the metaphorical megaphone of Robbins or Bronson, Evans does have one advantage in a very impressive AV department at campaign headquarters, the former home of the Dan Sullivan for Senate team.
Being able to create more slick and sophisticated Zoom presentations and YouTube videos does give Evans a leg up on the competition, and his campaign manager Cale Green is a professional videographer who has a history of producing video content for political blogger Jeff Landfield’s Alaska Landmine.
“I honestly think that type of communication style is part of campaigns in the future. Covid probably sped that process up, but I’ve been working on campaigns since 2010 interning for Lisa Murkowski for Senate and we figured out Constant Contact and that we should be emailing people,” Green said. “Every campaign gets more and more sophisticated and social media is the modern new printing press… You look at a candidate in a Zoom meeting and they’re looking at their laptop, or they’re reading off a script and pretending their eyes aren’t darting back and forth, but Bill’s here in a 1080 video camera at 24 cinematic frames per second — it’s a clear contrast.”
Besides Dunbar, Evans was the first to announce his candidacy back in the pre-Covid halcyon days of November 2019. He said the noise of the 2020 election cycle kept him from pressing forward with his campaign as much as he might have liked, but Green is confident that with 40 before voters begin receiving their ballots in the mail, Evans will be able to surpass Robbins and Bronson.
Green said if Bronson were to get to the final his performance would be similar to his 55-40 percent loss to Elvi Gray Jackson in 2011.
“He would be capped at the Amy Demboski 42-43 percent,” Green said. “He has videos online talking about the ‘deep state’ and videos online at assembly chambers two months ago where he said, ‘I know how to stop Covid — stop the testing.’ That’s his honest solution, which is not in line with the majority of people in Anchorage.”
Green believes Robbins’ past, highlighted by significant IRS debt, keeps him from being able to defeat Dunbar.
“It’s tough when you look at someone who could be beaten by a Courtview record — the guy would be absolutely smoked,” Green said. “It would be like Rebecca Logan in 2018 — she’s a friend of mine and she supports Bill — but her past activity brought out all her dirty laundry and she got destroyed by Ethan (Berkowitz).”
Since his arrival to Anchorage in 1998, Evans has seen the city drift more and more to the progressive side of the aisle, and he hopes to pull the political culture back to the right, even if your typical Republican of 2021 might be more beholden to Q-Anon theories than small government principles.
“Anchorage used to be more conservative and I think a lot of people on the conservative side haven’t come to grips with that it is now a very purple city,” Evans said. “You have to be someone who can attract that middle ground.”
In that sense, Evans is hoping the center he’s counting on is a delicious gob of purple jelly and not just a donut hole.