Meet Scott Kendall, father of Alaska’s ranked choice voting and lightning rod for the right

A man stands in front of a window.
Attorney Scott Kendall at his office in downtown Anchorage. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage attorney Scott Kendall can’t believe the names he’s called.

“Yeah, ‘the Soros-funded, Marxist attorney,’ — and I’m not Marxist. Obviously. That’s an anti- Semitic trope,” Kendall said recently. “I’m not funded by George Soros. Never met him. Never met anyone associated with him.”

Kendall, 49, is at the center of two hot political topics in Alaska. He was the prime author of the 2020 ballot measure that launched ranked choice voting. It’s deeply unpopular among conservatives, and a repeal effort is underway.

Kendall made headlines more recently by filing a lawsuit challenging the state’s reimbursement program for families that homeschool. 

Alaska’s right wing says Kendall is undermining them. On social media, furious Alaskans allege Kendall is trying to transfer their parental authority to the government and weaken the bonds of family. 

Kendall says he’s upholding the Alaska Constitution. And he and his wife of 21 years, Selena Hopkins-Kendall, say they’re devoted to family. They have two children, and when they aren’t working at their law firm, they say they spend most of their time being soccer parents.

“Probably 90% of our travel is now related to soccer,” Kendall said.

couple in jackets look at camera
Scott Kendall and Selena Hopkins-Kendall practice law at the same firm and spend a lot of their free time as soccer parents. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Politically, theirs was a mixed marriage. She’s a Democrat, from a prominent Fairbanks family. Kendall is from Washington state and was a Republican for most of his adult life, until the mob violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 prompted him to reregister as nonpartisan.

That event is just one of many indicators that Kendall is out of step with the Republican Party. He has long been a voice for moderate Republicans, and moderation in general. As Alaska and America have become more polarized, it’s hard to occupy middle ground, and Kendall’s willingness to take on cases that are unpopular on the right has made him a lightning rod.

It’s not what he was aiming for.

“I think Scott is motivated by an idea that Alaska is fundamentally a rational place,” said Alaska AFL-CIO President Joelle Hall, who has known Kendall for years, since she worked with former state Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, who is Kendall’s uncle-in-law. 

Kendall’s vision of Alaska, she said, is a traditional one, where neighbors see beyond political identities and pull each other out of snowbanks.

“I think he believes in that Alaska,” Hall said. “And he’s I think he’s constantly trying to find a political path that gets us back to that place …, back to a place where people actually can have civil conversations with one another even though they disagree.”

Kendall honed his expertise in election law in 2010, when he defended Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in victory before the Alaska Supreme Court. He helped her win re-election over Tea Party-aligned conservative Joe Miller.

Kendall worked on Murkowski’s 2016 campaign, too. But he said it was his job as Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff that inspired his work on a ballot measure to change Alaska elections. He said legislators were too afraid of losing their primary to risk making compromises that could resolve the state budget crisis.

The 2020 ballot measure replaced Alaska’s partisan primary with one where all candidates appear on the same ballot and the top four advance. Voters can rank their choices at the general election.

These days, Kendall spends some of his time defending the system the ballot measure created. He’s pursuing a lawsuit to block a repeal initiative. He also filed a campaign finance complaint last year against opponents of ranked choice voting, accusing them of misusing a religious organization they created. 

“They’ve concocted what appears to be a bizarre scheme to run money through a church based in Washington in order to obscure their finances,” Kendall argued to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections.

The commission imposed fines totaling more than $90,000 against anti-ranked choice groups and their founder, Art Mathias, who is appealing. Mathias declined an interview request for this story.

At one point last summer, Mathias issued a press release saying Kendall is “attacking me, my church, Christians and our initiative to replace his Marxist voting system.”

He called Kendall a “Soros-funded attorney,” which Kendall says is a dog whistle for anti-Semitism. 

George Soros is a Jewish billionaire who funds liberal causes. Some of his critics cast him in conspiracy theories, leaning on the stereotype of the Jew as global puppet master. 

It’s possible that Mathias made an innocent mistake, Kendall said. But ranked choice opponents continue to link Kendall to Soros, even after the Anti-Defamation League of the Northwest called on them to stop using the inflammatory term.

“What I don’t know with any certainty is, are they saying that because I’m Jewish? Or are they saying that because they believe Jewish people are generally responsible for everything they’re worried about? I don’t know,” Kendall said. “It’s still anti-Semitic either way, right?”

Mathias referred questions to another leader of the anti-ranked choice movement, Phil Izon. Izon said it’s fair to link Kendall to Soros, because Soros has donated to a national advocacy group that donated to Alaskans for Better Elections, which pays Kendall for legal work. 

Mathias could’ve focused on other billionaires who more directly support ranked choice voting in Alaska, but Izon says Soros is better known.

With the homeschool case, Kendall is facing new suspicion about his motives. He insists he has nothing against homeschooling, or reimbursing parents who do it. His position is that the state reimbursement should not be used to subsidize private or religious school tuition, which the Alaska Constitution prohibits.

Another lawyer brought the issue to Kendall’s attention. She didn’t want to take on the controversy. Kendall didn’t mind.

“I’m a huge advocate of public education,” he said. “I grew up in a small farm town. Didn’t get a very good education. But then I went to community college. I went from there to  a public university. From there to a public law school. Without those ladders of opportunity, I’m still on a farm.”

A lot of people, he said, might’ve preferred it.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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