Fury and confusion arose from Alaska Democrats — some of them, anyway — over Congresswoman Mary Peltola’s announcement last week that she’s hired a Republican to be her state director. Not just any Republican but former state legislator Josh Revak, who got top marks from the right-wing Alaska Family Action in his last campaign.
While some liberals have grumbled over Peltola’s support of development projects like ConocoPhillips’ Willow drilling proposal and the Ambler mining road, hiring Revak as state director really struck a raw nerve.
“I was outraged, I got to tell you,” said Elstun Lausen, a longtime Anchorage Democrat. “And my outrage is shared by many, many supporters of the good congresswoman.”
Peltola is a Democrat who pitched herself to voters as a moderate willing to work across the aisle. It was effective as a campaign strategy but now some members of the coalition that elected her — people she’ll need to win upcoming elections — wonder if they backed the wrong candidate.
On social media and at an Alaska Democratic party meeting in Juneau last weekend, progressives complained that Revak is too much. They don’t like his stance against legal abortion. They worry he’ll impose his agenda on Peltola. Some question his loyalty to her. Revak himself ran for the U.S. House seat last year. Some wonder if he is building himself up to beat Peltola next year.
Peltola’s Deputy Chief of Staff Anton McParland thinks otherwise.
“In this position I have a great deal of respect for Josh, that he is able to set aside his own personal politics, and advocate for the concerns of Alaskans on this front,” McParland said. “He’s committed to doing that. I believe that he will.”
McParland said Revak has relevant experience as a legislator and a congressional aide to the late Congressman Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan. And as McParland describes it, the position of state director isn’t one that makes policy. It’s mostly about constituent services.
Revak declined to be interviewed for this story.
Democrat Tom Begich served with Revak in the state Senate. He said Revak came into the Legislature a partisan but moderated his style and became an ally to Democrats.
“Well, he assisted us in tabling the transgender sports ban. So I think that that in and of itself, during a political season — that’s a pretty bold move that speaks to a more moderate perspective,” said Begich, who did not seek reelection last year.
Begich can recite a long list of issues that he says Revak helped Democrats with.
“He worked with us on all of our budget issues that we brought to the floor, including things like food bank; blood bank; expansion of teacher, public health, and public safety housing,” Begich recalled. “(He) voted with us on many of those (and) voted against some of the more extreme members of his own caucus numerous times.”
Begich thinks Peltola was smart to hire Revak, in part because he’s a decorated combat veteran.
“Veterans can talk to him and feel comfortable in that process,” Begich said, adding that hiring a Republican for that role “defines you as an open-to-anyone member of Congress, which I think is critical in a state that has managed, so far, to avoid the level of polarization in the lower 48.”
And, Begich said, there are pragmatic, political benefits for Peltola to improve her outreach to Alaska Republicans.
The dilemma for her future campaign team will be how to reach to the right without further alienating her Democratic base.
For more politics news, sign up for D.C. correspondent Liz Ruskin’s free newsletter, Alaska At-Large.