by AJ Schultz, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Alaska’s 2022 midterm elections are Tuesday, Nov. 8. Alaska’s statewide elections are the topic of contentious debate, as U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy are up for re-election.
Peltola is completing the term of U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died unexpectedly in March, prompting a special election. Peltola, a Democrat, ran against Republicans Nick Begich and Sarah Palin in Alaska’s first election using the ranked choice voting system. The Republicans’ contentious campaign pitted one against the other and they split the vote, so second and third choice votes led Peltola to victory.
The November regular election will determine who will serve Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives until 2024.
In the special election in August, voters ranked their first, second, and third choice candidates in order of preference to more accurately represent their opinions.
Alaska lawyer Scott Kendall championed the statewide ballot measure that brought the system into effect in 2020.
“I think it’s a message to candidates, and maybe even unconventional candidates, that elections are for you now, too,” Kendall said in a statement after the measure passed.
The initiative didn’t pass unopposed, however. “We’re going to have to live with this craziness,” said Kenneth Jacobus, an Alaska attorney who claimed ranked choice voting was unconstitutional after the Alaska Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the system. “We’ll have to see how it plays out.”
Peltola holds the seat until January, when the winner of the general election is sworn into office. As the Democratic incumbent in the November election, she is again facing Palin and Begich as the two major Republicans in the race.
Alaska Survey Research, a pollster that has conducted several quantitative polls throughout the election cycle, has Peltola polling at 51% compared to Palin at 27% and Begich at 22% as of Oct. 19-22.
Since her election, Peltola has worked with her Alaskan colleagues in Congress on issues impacting the state. On Oct. 10, Indigenous Peoples Day, Peltola spoke at Mt. Edgecumbe High School and UAS Sitka.
“Nationally, we have a lot of rhetoric that talks about fear and hatred as a motivator and that just sets us all back,” Peltola told the Mt. Edgecumbe assembly. “And one of the best things I’ve learned through traditional knowledge is when you’re facing challenges, you have to come at it from a place of love and patience.”
Peltola said we’re all in this together.
“We have a diverse group of people that make up Alaskans, but we have a common future. We all have a lot at stake, and we have a lot to gain,” she said.
Mary Peltola was not able to interview with the Whalesong in time for our October print issue. However, an interview is planned the coming weeks.
Sarah Palin and Nick Begich did not respond to the Whalesong’s requests for interviews.
Murkowski vs Tshibaka
“Representative Peltola and I served in the state house together, so we had that bond coming in,” said Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s U.S. senior senator, in an interview with the Whalesong.
“Representative Young and I worked together very well as peers and colleagues, and as representatives working for a state that we cared deeply about. But there was always an age difference and a generational difference. Mary and I are in a different space with that,” Murkowski said.
Peltola and Murkowski cosigned a letter to President Biden in September urging federal assistance to Western Alaska communities damaged by Typhoon Merbok.
Murkowski is receiving national attention in her re-election campaign. She was one of a few Republicans in the U.S. Senate who sometimes voted against former President Donald Trump’s agenda, and voted for Trump’s impeachment in 2021.
As a result, Murkowsi’s opponent is the Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka.
Compared to Tshibaka, Murkowski’s stances are moderate, but she often agrees with the Republican platform on issues such as student loan debt forgiveness.
“I am not without empathy with regards to the extraordinary debt that young people have taken on in pursuing an education,” Murkowski told the Whalesong. “What I think is concerning is you have a small segment of the population that has taken on debt that will be given a golden ticket. What about that student who is just now entering college or taking on debt? Are they, too, going to hope that there will be a moment in time where there will be this forgiveness?”
Murkowski said the root of higher education debt needs to be addressed.
She leads Tshibaka by 11%, according to a Oct. 19-22 Alaska Survey Research poll, reported by FiveThirtyEight, which uses an aggregate of several high-quality pollsters to predict election outcomes. However, elections are never entirely predictable, and polls and predictions can be inaccurate.
Kelly Tshibaka did not respond to the Whalesong’s request for an interview.
In Alaska’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Mike Dunleavy is up for re-election. Dunleavy faces former Gov. Bill Walker, a nonpartisan candidate, and Democrat Les Gara, a former state representative from Anchorage.
After a failed recall effort in 2021, Dunleavy. is leading a Republican platform that includes legal action against the Biden administration, strengthening gun rights, and a plan to evenly split Alaska Permanent Fund annual earnings between state government and individual Alaskans.
Gara is campaigning to a more progressive voter base. When asked about his campaign and outreach to young voters, Gara emphasized his support for renewable energy, need-based aid for students facing loan debt, and increased funding for Alaska’s Universities.
“I believe in getting people the help they need if they can’t afford college or job training,” Gara said in a Whalesong interview. “I believe strong schools and strong universities and strong job training create a future for people. I have a strong track record on these things–money should never be a barrier to success.”
Gara criticized Dunleavy for being against what Gara sees as the popular will of Alaskans. “Most Alaskans believe in strong schools, most Alaskans believe in strong policing, most Alaskans believe in a strong construction budget,” he said.
Gara said he would always defend a woman’s right to choose. This is a view shared by Walker’s campaign.
Governor Dunleavy’s office canceled and did not reschedule an interview with the Whalesong.
Bill Walker responded to a request for an interview with the Whalesong but was unable to schedule.
As of Sept. 27, Dunleavy leads Walker by 4% and Gara by 7%, according to an Alaska Survey Research poll. This marks a sharp increase for Gara since summer polls, when he trailed Dunleavy by 25%.
These choices will determine how policy is written and voted on in Congress, and how Alaska will be governed. It’s imperative that Alaskans who are registered cast their vote on Nov. 8. Early voting began in Alaska on Oct. 24.
The UAS Student Recreation Center will serve as a polling place on Nov. 8. To check your registration status and polling location, as well as to apply for an absentee ballot, visit myvoterinformation.alaska.gov.