At statewide convention in Fairbanks, GOP plans to focus on election law changes

A mostly spruce forest with a bunch of smoke rising and a mcDonalds arch
Fairbanks in February 2022. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

It has been six years since Fairbanks hosted the statewide Republican convention, and it sold out earlier this week.

“We are, we are having a phenomenal response to the convention,” said Althea St. Martin, who is one of the coordinators. “We have a full capacity at the Westmark.”

St. Martin said representatives from all 40 legislative districts will attend. But coordinators didn’t think this would be a large convention, like Fairbanks hosted in 2016.

“2016 was a presidential year. When we have a convention in a presidential year, we’re also electing the delegates to go to the national convention,” said St. Martin. “So there’s a big turnout on those, but usually in a midterm year there isn’t that big rush. So this is just a bonus for Fairbanks.”

On the schedule is a forum for five of the high-profile Republican candidates for Alaska’s congressional seat. The convention couldn’t squeeze in all 16 declared Republicans running for the five-month position that will finish out Don Young’s term, which ends in January. So they asked who of those might be running for the two-year term.

“If we have the same person win the special election and the general election, they will have seniority over everybody that gets elected in the general election, because they’ll have those extra months in there,” said St. Martin.

Other important business items include rule changes and resolutions to changes the party’s platform. Alaskans will have the first ranked choice voting elections this year. A part of that means Republicans can’t have their own, closed primary as they have in the last two decades.

Cynthia Henry is the Republican National Committeewoman for Alaska. She says that will prompt changes.

“Because of some of our rules are based on our old closed primary, that things are in flux more than they ever have been in regard to elections,” she said.

St. Martin agrees.

“I think that with the changes in the election and the changes in the rules, there’s just so much that we need to readjust in our thinking and how we go about business,” said St. Martin. “Everything is new this year.”

Henry and St. Martin said they couldn’t comment on how the party platform or rules might change.

For example, the party’s Central Committee has endorsed Kelly Tshibaka for the U.S. Senate race. But in the open primary, both Tshibaka and incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski could be on the general election ballot in November.

The same thing could happen in the race for governor, where the party has endorsed incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy and three other Republicans and a former Republican are running.

“It’s a lot of proposed resolutions and until the body approves them, they’re not out for public discussion until they’re finalized. Then it becomes posted on our web, on the party’s website, and everybody can take a look at them,” Henry said. 

St. Martin said all the districts had meetings and elected the delegates to attend the state convention.

“And that’s where they also submitted any resolutions or platform changes,” said St. Martin. “So all of those districts have submitted and the convention is going to be where we make the sausage.” 

The convention began Thursday morning and goes through Saturday.

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