More than 50 candidates file for Young’s congressional seat Friday

A crowded primary, well known political leaders and ranked choice: Alaskans line up to replace the late Rep. Don Young
More than 50 candidates file for Young’s congressional seat Friday
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 2:18 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 1, 2022 at 6:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Just one day ahead of what is expected to be a massive memorial service at Anchorage Baptist Temple to honor the late Rep. Don Young — who died earlier this month after 49 years of serving as Alaska’s only representative in the U.S. House — dozens of people filed for office to fill his seat.

It’s expected to be a wild ride with a crowded field. By Friday evening, more than 50 people had filed to run to fill Young’s seat.

Some well-known names on the list include Nick Begich III (R), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), John Coghill (R), Republican Sen. Josh Revak, and Jeff Lowenfels (nonpartisan). Other big-name contenders include Chris Constant (D), and Independent Al Gross, a former orthopedic surgeon who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Palin announced her decision to enter the race on Friday afternoon on her Facebook page, filing paperwork with the Alaska Division of Elections shortly before the deadline.

In the post, Palin said she plans to “honor” Young’s legacy by adding her name to the race “in the name of service to the state he loved and fought for, because I share that passion for Alaska and the United States of America.”

Gross officially filed Friday morning, joining another recent filer — Santa Claus of North Pole, Alaska. Claus (nonpartisan) legally changed his name in 2005 and has served on the North Pole City Council, according to his website. A former aide for Young, Revak also filed on Friday morning.

A notable candidate who filed Friday is Emil Notti. He was the Democratic nominee for the 1973 special election to replace former Alaska’s former representative in the U.S. House, Nick Begich Sr., after he went missing in a plane crash. Notti narrowly lost the election to Young.

Also of note, Democratic Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks and Andrew Halcro, a former Republican member of the Alaska House, added their names to the list by filing on Friday.

Also on Friday, Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native leader and former co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, announced on Friday that she is filing to run for Young’s seat.

“After deep reflection, and with a humble heart, I will once again answer the call to serve the state and people that I love,” she said in a statement.

Sweeney is the former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior and former executive at Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

Also joining the race Friday was Mary Sattler Peltola, a former Democratic Alaska legislator who represented the Bethel area in the Alaska House for a decade.

By the time the 5 p.m. Friday deadline had passed, 51 people had officially filed to run for the seat with the Alaska Division of Elections including Dennis Aguayo, Jay Armstrong, Brian Beal, Tim Beck, Gregg Brelsford, Robert Brown, Chris Bye, John Callahan, Arlene Carle, Craig Beck, Lady Dutchess, Otto Florschutz, Laurel Foster, Thomas Gibbons, Karyn Griffin, Ted Heintz, William Hibler, John Howe, David Hughes, Don Knight, Robert Lyons, Anne McCabe, Mikel Melander, Sherry Mettler, Mike Milligan, Richard Morris, J.R. Myers, Robert Ornelas, Silvio Pellegrini, Jesse Sumner, Maxwell Sumner, David Thistle, Ernest Thomas, Richard Trotter, Bradley Welter, Jason Williams, Jo Woodward and Stephen Wright.

Jesse Sumner is a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly.

Constant is vice chair of the Anchorage Assembly and is one of the body’s first openly gay members, who has also clashed with the conservative mayor. He was first elected in 2017 and was previously the president of the Fairview Community Council.

Begich is part of the well-known political family dynasty. Should he win the race, he would take back the seat once held by his grandfather before Young’s first term in Congress started in 1973.

Begich’s grandfather, Nick Begich Sr., was elected to Alaska’s only congressional seat in 1970. Begich disappeared during a 1972 flight from Anchorage to Juneau. He was replaced by Young in a special election.

Coghill is a former lawmaker from North Pole and has deep political roots in the Interior.

Lowenfels is a garden columnist and attorney who says he also started the pizza by the slice movement in Anchorage.

“I can still throw a pizza 20 feet in the air,” Lowenfels said in an interview after he filed to run on Wednesday.

Lowenfels says if he wins the special primary election in June he will run again to keep the seat.

“The reason why I’m running is, first of all, because Don’s not here, but second because I think I can carry on his legacy,” Lowenfels said. “The purpose of the Alaska congressman is to make sure that Alaskan’s interests and Alaska’s interests are not forgotten.”

Begich had previously filed to run for the U.S. House seat before Young died.

“You know we’re just continuing to travel the state, we’re meeting people where they are,” Begich said... “I think that our best days are ahead of us.”

Constant announced his intention to run in February at a news conference at the 49th State Brewing Company.

“After living through the darkness of the pandemic and years of political extremism that have threatened the very foundation of our democracy, it’s time once again to believe in a better and brighter tomorrow, and to build it,” Constant said when he announced his candidacy in February. “It’s time to leave behind the chaos and come together as Alaskans to achieve our full potential as a state and as a nation. It’s time to reject political pessimism and instead it’s time to lead with courage, optimism, and hope. That is why I am committed to public service for my fellow Alaskans. That is why I am excited about the future and that is why today I am announcing my campaign to become Alaska’s next representative in Congress.”

What makes this race even more interesting is that it will be the first ballot to feature the newly adopted top four primary system after Alaskans voted to pass Ballot Measure 2 by just 1% in 2020.

The first special election takes place on June 11, a primary. Every candidate’s name will be listed. Voters cast their ballot for one person and the top four candidates move on to the special general election on Aug. 16.

The special primary will be held as vote-by-mail only and will determine the top four names that will be listed in the special general election, which will be a ranked-choice ballot, the first in Alaska.

Alaska’s News Source is reaching out to candidates for comment.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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