OPINION: Assembly’s retreat gives Bronson room to govern
Two things have become clear over the past four weeks in Anchorage, one that was always more certain than the other.
First, we found out that the Anchorage Assembly has, and indeed always had, the power to revise or revoke the emergency orders handed down from the mayor’s office.
Second, as Dave Bronson’s lead grew to 1,212 votes in the runoff election for mayor as of May 18, we have learned that contra the supposed conventional wisdom, an unapologetic and unashamed conservative can still win a citywide race in Anchorage.
The fact Joe Biden won Anchorage last fall and the Assembly’s ideological tilt is more lopsided than the last moments of the Titanic led a few prognosticators along with former candidate Bill Evans to assert that Bronson stood no chance in a one-on-one race against Forrest Dunbar.
Appeals to Bronson supporters to make the “safe” vote for Evans fell on deaf ears — he didn’t crack 10 percent in the general election — and their significant advantage of enthusiasm and motivation appear to have carried him to victory.
Evans’ refusal to endorse Bronson proved equally unimportant. During the April 6 general election, the three candidates to the right of Dunbar and his fellow progressives earned 50.3 percent of the vote. As of the most recent results, Bronson stands at 50.7 percent.
A general rule about politics is that it is better to be voting for something, and Bronson supporters had that in spades even as much of what they were for was being against what Dunbar and his progressive cohort on the Assembly have put the city through over the past year.
In contrast, Dunbar didn’t run on any accomplishments other than having been twice elected to the Assembly following an unsuccessful challenge to Dean of the U.S. House Don Young in 2014.
The greatest accomplishment Dunbar could actually point to — other than funding more cops in a position also supported by Bronson — was his vote on April 27 to lift every pandemic prohibition other than the mask mandate.
In a vote that telegraphed his desperation, Dunbar joined with Chris Constant to override the mayor, the city Health Department and the CDC guidelines in place at the time.
Now it is quite obvious that adopting Bronson’s campaign platform did not help Dunbar as much as he may have hoped it would. Then as he departed for National Guard duty, he all but conceded the race and was not present when eight Assembly members voted to make effective immediately Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s release from the mask mandate she had scheduled for May 21 just hours earlier.
With only one dissent from Meg Zalatel, the Assembly belatedly exerted the power they always had to moderate or eliminate emergency orders yet had refused to do for more than a year despite the pleadings from the people who flocked to Bronson for change.
Whether they intended to or not, the Assembly opponents of Bronson have done him a favor. He should now be able to take office July 1 and inherit a city coming back to life from the damaging and often heartless orders issued by successive mayors and unfailingly — until now — upheld by the Assembly.
The progressive elected officials paid a price for their refusal to moderate, their misplaced priorities, and the highly questionable line items where they sent CARES Act money.
Bronson has breathing room to govern at a time when what the municipality needs more than anything is a steady hand on the till as businesses begin to recover.
He has a chance to help shape the next tranche of $51 million in federal relief money, which may be a good place to fund his promise to rebate property tax payments for businesses that were shuttered by government order.
Although he was smeared as simply wanting to jail the homeless, he expressed his support for the success of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena that not only provided a roof but the connections to services sought by many who are willing to seek the help.
Based on the 9th Circuit court case so often cited over the past several years as an excuse for doing nothing, Bronson can recognize that a core piece of that ruling is that people cannot be cited for public trespassing when there is no shelter space available.
The tragedy of people drinking themselves to death at our busiest intersections and the illegal and environmentally degrading camping through the greenbelts cannot be resolved without sufficient shelter space and resources.
That is not to say that criminalizing crime can’t be a part of the policy. The right to sit on a corner doesn’t include the right to drink, use drugs, or do the things Bronson said belong “behind bathroom or bedroom doors.”
Even though he will take office at the warmest time of the year, Bronson will be sworn in at a time when the political temperature should also be as low as its been in nearly a year.
Expecting a honeymoon may be unrealistic, though, with critics stacked against him across the press and the Assembly chambers. Some enterprising person has probably already purchased “recallbronson.com”.
Bronson fought hard for this, and his supporters deserve to enjoy their touchdown dance rather than immediately being lectured about compromising.
What’s also certain is this: winning was hard, but governing is going to be even harder.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].