Filling Alaska’s Seat in Congress
Since Rep. Don Young’s passing, a special election was set to fill Alaska’s vacant seat in Congress with a primary taking place June 11th (where Alaskans will vote on 1 candidate) and a special general election taking place August 16th (where Alaskans will vote on 4 candidates). Out of 48 candidates, voters will send a new representative to Washington D.C. for 3 short months before the midterm elections in November. Everything about this election is far from ordinary; it’s easy to get lost in the details, but there’s abundant opportunity here.
The chance to fill Alaska’s sole congressional seat since Rep. Don Young’s lengthy career in office is one that’s garnered undeniable novelty. The 48 candidates running to fill the seat include historic firsts, some familiar faces, and some very new.
In a historic first, Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Constant (D), became the only openly gay candidate to run for statewide office in Alaska when he announced his running against Don Young, just weeks before the representative died. Leading a campaign founded upon courage and hope, he immediately received the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party. Constant worked relentlessly to secure Downtown Anchorage equal representation in the form of its second assembly seat, after years of being the only district to have a single member. His leadership as Vice Chair safely helped Anchorage through the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the violent backlash. Constant promises Alaska the same consistent tenacity with which he’s served Anchorage if voters were to lend their support.
Currently, 4 Alaska Native candidates (3 of them women) with diverse political backgrounds are among those 48. Tara Sweeney (R), who previously served as Assistant Secretary of the interior for Native American Affairs is Inupiaq. Former Alaska House Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola (D) is Yup’ik and serves as the current Executive Director for the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fish Commission. The Sattler family was a defining force in building the relationship Don Young began with the Yukon-Kuskokwim communities, piloting the candidate to those remote villages, translating his speeches to Yup’ik, and securing his first congressional win in the state. Active-duty Operations Officer for the Alaska Air National Guard, Laurel Foster (I) has Cup’ik roots as a Senior Paralegal at the Alaska Native Justice Center. She is currently serving as Vice President of the Alaska Association of Paralegals – and it’s somehow her first time running for statewide office. Lastly, Athabascan leader Emil Notti (D) is the second Alaska Native ever to be inducted to the National Native American Hall of Fame just last year. He was the first ever President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, his relentless advocacy helped pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and he continues to build upon Alaska’s future via the Alaska Native Business Management Program at UAA. A win from any of these 4 very accomplished indigenous leaders would result in our first ever Alaska Native Representative in Congress.
After 49 years under Don Young’s representation, Alaskans are due for some real change. About a quarter of the current list of candidates have previous experience running for office. A short 3-month term as a sitting congressman lowered the stakes for many to sign on to candidacy, but many will drop out of the race or plan to campaign under the radar. Santa Clause, a sitting councilman from North Pole and already a favored contender, has announced he does not plan to raise money towards his campaign efforts. Meanwhile, former Gov. Sarah Palin broke her 10-year retirement from politics and immediately received Trump’s endorsement.
For too long, Alaskans have fought and failed to unseat Don Young for this newfound opportunity to not be taken seriously. Alaskans have a shot at guaranteed change on the ballot this year if they choose to take it.