Juneau Assembly member Kiehl, labor leader Etheridge run for state Senate seat

Surrounded by his family, Juneau Democrat Jesse Kiehl announces he’s running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Dennis Egan on Thursday near the Capitol. Nonpartisan candidate Don Etheridge recently announced he’s running for the same Senate seat. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Two more candidates have joined the race for the state Senate seat representing Juneau and other northern Southeast communities. A third recently announced his intention to run for a downtown Juneau-based House seat.

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Jesse Kiehl is the latest to announce his intentions.  

The Juneau Assembly member tossed his hat in the ring at a Thursday campaign rally across the street from the Capitol.  

“I’m here today to make it official,” Kiehl said. “I am running for Senate District Q to represent Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet.”

On Wednesday, Kiehl resigned his job as an aide to incumbent Democrat Dennis Egan, who is not seeking re-election.  

Kiehl is a Democrat and will be on the party’s Aug. 21 primary ballot. But he says he would consider working with Republicans if he’s elected. 

“I think coalitions are a great opportunity to work together for Alaska,” Kiehl said. “I’ve worked as a staffer in a bipartisan majority and I think that’s a fabulous opportunity. I’ll pursue that actively.”

Don Etheridge, his wife and grandchildren take part in a Keep Alaska Open for Business rally at the Capitol June 11, 2017. Nonpartisan Etheridge is running for Juneau’s Senate seat. (Photo courtesy Don Etheridge)

Don Etheridge also recently announced his bid for the Senate seat. 

The longtime labor leader and lobbyist served one term on the Assembly about 20 years ago. He’s also been an active member of Juneau’s Docks and Harbors board. 

A nonpartisan candidate, Etheridge will skip the primaries and run in the Nov. 6 general election. He said not being a party member will make it easier to compromise and get things done. 

“You can’t just go in there with a locked-in position and (be) not willing to work on the issues,” Etheridge said. “As a longtime negotiator with the unions you learn how to do that.”

Fisheries corporation CEO Larry Cotter also is a candidate for the same Senate seat. The nonpartisan will only run in the general election. Cotter announced his political intentions in late January. 

Separately, there’s a third candidate for the downtown Juneau-based House district that also includes other northern Southeast cities. Steven Handy is a former telecommunications worker and legislative aide who will run in the Democratic Party primary. But he says he wants to look beyond party labels. 

“I understand the political reality of it. But I don’t like the term ‘reaching over the aisle,’” Handy said. “I’d like to think that it’s a body of 40 people who are working toward resolution of issues that affect everybody in the state.”

Handy will face retired teacher Sara Hannan in the primary. She made her plans public in February. 

Construction worker and labor leader Chris Dimond filed for the same seat in March. He’s nonpartisan and will only run in the general election.  

Incumbent Democrat Sam Kito III is not seeking re-election. 

Two candidates have already filed for Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley-based House seat. Republican Jerry Nankervis, Juneau’s deputy mayor and a retired police captain, will run in his party’s primary. Nonpartisan Rob Edwardson, also a Juneau Assembly member and an aide to outgoing incumbent Democrat Justin Parish, will run in the Democratic primary. Parish is not seeking re-election. 

Recent party rule changes allow nonpartisan candidates to run in Democratic primaries. 

Other candidates could also join Juneau’s three legislative races. The final filing deadline is June 1. 

Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell.

He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues.

He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.

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