State Sen. Gray-Jackson becomes first Democrat in US Senate race

Alaska State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson walks out of the Division of Elections after filing to run for a U.S. Senate seat on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. Gray-Jackson is entering as a Democratic challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is running for her fourth term. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Anchorage Democratic state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson launched a campaign for U.S. Senate on Thursday, saying she would work to support access to abortion rights, voting and health care.

She is the first Democrat to join a race that includes incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Kelly Tshibaka, who are both Republicans. 

“Alaskans deserve better. You know, now they have a choice. They have a choice to vote for me, somebody who understands, truly understands what Alaskans need,” she said shortly after filing for her candidacy at the Division of Elections office in Juneau. 

Gray-Jackson would be the first Black U.S. senator for Alaska.

“I was the first minority to be appointed as chair when I served on the Anchorage Assembly,” she said. “I’m moving forward and looking forward to, No. 1, working hard and reaching out to Alaskans so that I can get elected to the United States Senate. And when I’m elected to the United States Senate, I’ll make history once again.”  

Gray-Jackson criticized Murkowski’s votes on Supreme Court nominees and against allowing a vote on voting rights legislation. 

“I’m 100% pro-choice and, you know, Sen. Murkowski is pro-choice, too. But she votes for Supreme Court justices that aren’t pro-choice,” she said. “I believe in democracy and fairness for our voters, especially our most vulnerable and marginalized voters, and she voted no on a voting rights act bill.” 

A woman standing outside wearing a mask
Alaska State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson answers questions from reporters after filing to run for a U.S. Senate seat on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Gray-Jackson also said she would focus on health care, adding that her son is among many Alaskans who don’t have access to health care due to its high cost. 

She also said public safety is important to her and that she frequently sees concerns about crime on Nextdoor, a social media app connecting neighbors. 

And she talked about the importance of raising wages. 

“We need living wages for our hardworking men and women in Alaska,” she said. “You go to the grocery store now, a family of four used to be able to get groceries for a week for $50. Now, it’s not right what families are being charged for groceries.”

Gray-Jackson has represented Midtown Anchorage and nearby neighborhoods in the Alaska Senate since 2017. In the Legislature, she sponsored laws that made February Black History Month in Alaska and that expanded the range of health care providers who can certify that people have disabilities, allowing them to receive special license plates. 

She also sponsored bills that would address the use of force by police, make Juneteenth a state holiday and aim to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Gray-Jackson, 68, grew up in Newark, New Jersey and moved to Alaska in 1982. She served in the Anchorage Assembly for nine years and has worked for Anchorage’s government and Municipal Light and Power. 

Democratic candidates have struggled against Murkowski in the past, including in elections when she was challenged by more conservative candidates. In 2010, Democrat Scott McAdams lost to Murkowski even though she wasn’t on the ballot and had to run a write-in campaign. Murkowski attracted votes from Democrats who worried that voting for their party would put Tea Party-endorsed candidate Joe Miller in the Senate. Miller had defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary. 

Alaska will have a new voting system this year, and Gray-Jackson said that will make a difference. 

“Alaskans will now be able to vote their values,” she said. 

In the general election, voters can rank up to four candidates in order of their preference. For example, progressives might rank Gray-Jackson first and Murkowski second.

Gray-Jackson wept when she reflected on the meaning of her campaign. 

“Public service is my passion and I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years,” she said. 

Gray-Jackson said she would continue to serve in the state Senate through the end of her term, even if there are special sessions in the summer. 

In addition to Gray-Jackson, Murkowski and Tshibaka, 10 other candidates have filed with the state Division of Elections to run for the seat. 

Unlike candidates for the Legislature, Gray-Jackson can continue to raise funds for her campaign during the session, which is scheduled to end by May 18. She said she’s been working with the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the state Democratic Party. 

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct location of Gray-Jackson’s district. She represents Midtown Anchorage, not downtown.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.