Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins to end his decade-long legislative career

A bald young man in a Filson jacket poses for a photograph on a porch
Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says he’s been considering his decision for about six months, and he’s ready to create a life outside the state capitol. (Robert Woolsey/KCAW)

Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins will end a decade-long legislative career when the Alaska House adjourns sometime later this year.

A Democrat, Kreiss-Tompkins is a senior member of the Alaska House of Representatives and would be a contender for majority leader, if another bipartisan majority were organized after this November’s general election.

Nevertheless, at 33 years old, Kreiss-Tomkins has served most of his adult life in the Alaska Legislature, and he’s ready for a change.

“It’s been a decade, and I’ve watched my twenties go by the wayside, and literally every adult life birthday I have had has been in the confines of the Alaska Capitol,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “And I want to be sure before I get too long in tooth, that I have the opportunity to have time and space for other aspects of life as well, as difficult a decision as that is. Because I love the legislature, and I love this community in the region, and enjoy and feel effective with the work that is involved with the legislature.”

Kreiss-Tomkins won his seat in 2012 after redistricting left Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines vulnerable to a challenge from Sitka. Thomas, a Republican, was the chair of the House Finance Committee and thought to be safe. Kreiss-Tomkins ran a grassroots campaign and defeated Thomas by fewer than three dozen votes.

In his first days in office, someone mistook Kreiss-Tomkins for a House page. Ten years later, he’s near the top of the pecking order.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of turnover in the House in my 10 years, also,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “So that’s contributed to the fact of seniority, I guess. But when I last tallied it up, I think I was tied for maybe fourth-most seniority in the House of Representatives or something like that. There are a couple members who’ve been there a bit longer. But I have a great parking spot and some of the other perks that come with long tenure.”

Although Kreiss-Tomkins is stepping away from the legislature, he’s not stepping away from politics — as a constituent. He’s been a force in Alaskan politics since the age of 12, when he served as statewide chair of the Howard Dean presidential campaign. He’s proud of the work of Alaska’s bipartisan House Majority — the only one of its kind in the country — and he’ll work to elect a successor who will preserve this rare unity.

“I’m not gonna wander away from politics, and that’s for sure,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “It’s something that I enjoy greatly. And I care a lot about the future of the state and the future of this country. It’s something that my mind works well with, and I find a lot of meaning and purpose for. And I think that will continue to be a guiding force in future projects and endeavors. But now I want just a little bit of a time to catch my breath.”

In addition to his legislative service, over the past 10 years Kreiss-Tomkins co-founded Outer Coast, a post-secondary program on the campus of the former Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka; he helped develop a website called Covid ActNow to track pandemic data in real time, and he created the Alaska Fellows, a local service program in Sitka, Juneau, and Anchorage for recent college graduates.

The regular session of the 32nd Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to end on May 19. Kreiss-Tomkins was in Sitka over the weekend to spend time with family after releasing his official announcement on March 18.

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Robert Woolsey is a reporter at KCAW in Sitka.