Surprise moves ahead of Saturday deadline scramble races for Alaska Legislature

The Alaska State Capitol on March 25, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

Surprise announcements from candidates for the Alaska Legislature are leading to a last-minute scramble ahead of Saturday’s deadline to file for state office.

Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, is dropping his bid for reelection and running for Senate instead. He’s challenging Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, for a seat representing Sand Lake and West Anchorage. McKay said in a phone interview Thursday that he’s frustrated with the bipartisan supermajority that makes up 85% of the Senate. 

“There’s 11 Republicans and nine Democrats in that body, and yet Democrats control the majority of the chairmanships in the committees,” he said.

If elected, McKay said he’d be open to joining a bipartisan coalition, “but only on the condition that Republicans hold the committee chairmanships.” Republican Liz Vazquez has also filed to run for that seat.

McKay’s move sets off a bit of an Alaska two-step: As he files for Senate, former Republican Sen. Mia Costello is filing for McKay’s seat in the House representing southwest Anchorage. McKay says he met with Costello “a couple of months ago” and “agreed on a plan for her to return to the Legislature.”

“So today, we executed that plan,” he said. “Sen. Costello represented most of this district before, so she is well-known in the area. I think she’ll have an easy time winning election to House (District) 15.”

Costello did not immediately respond to a phone call or text message Thursday afternoon. She’ll face Democrat Denny Wells, who lost to McKay by nine votes in 2022.

And there are more shifting pieces in the Interior. Republican Sen. Click Bishop said he’s not seeking reelection to a seat representing much of the Interior, including West Fairbanks, the Alaska and Richardson Highways and villages along the Yukon, Tanana, Nenana and Copper rivers.

In a statement emailed to reporters Wednesday, Bishop said, “The time is right for me to prioritize and focus on family matters over the next two years.”

But Bishop is leaving the door open to a run for higher office once those two years are up. He said he’s not done with public service and that addressing the state’s issues “requires taking on a bigger role than serving in the (L)egislature.”

Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, has filed to run for Bishop’s seat, as has Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly Presiding Officer Savannah Fletcher, an independent. Cronk’s decision to run for Senate leaves no candidates for House District 36, representing much of the Interior, as of Thursday afternoon.

In Ketchikan, Rep. Dan Ortiz said Wednesday he’s calling it quits after a decade in office. He told public radio station KRBD the decision followed a recommendation from a doctor to reduce stress.

“I could continue to run and I can continue to serve. But, you know, with some of the revelations through some blood tests and things like that, there’s a potential for a chronic condition to develop that I don’t want to develop,” Ortiz told KRBD.

Even as an independent who caucused with bipartisan coalitions, Ortiz held off conservative challengers in a district that consistently voted for Republicans in statewide races. That makes the race House District 1, including Ketchikan, Wrangell, Whale Pass and Coffman Cove, key for control of the state House.

Republican Jeremy Bynum, a borough assembly member, is campaigning for the seat. Fellow assembly member Grant EchoHawk, an independent, said in a text message Thursday that he’s also jumping back in the race after Ortiz announced his departure.

The deadline to file is June 1 at 5 p.m. The nonpartisan primary election is scheduled for August 20. As many as four candidates can advance to the general election ballot.

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Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at estone@alaskapublic.org.

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