District 13 (and 14) Republicans send list of possible Dahlstrom replacements to Gov. Dunleavy

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - 13:07
  • From left, Craig Christenson, Clayton Trotter and Sharon Jackson. The three were selected by District 13 and 14 Republican Party precinct chairs as nominees to fill the District 13 State House seat being vacated by Rep.-elect Nancy Dahlstrom.

District 13 Republicans selected three potential replacements for Rep.-elect Nancy Dahlstrom Tuesday night with a little help from their friends.

After a lengthy procedural debate in the packed banquet room at Piccolino’s Restaurant in downtown Eagle River, the assembled precinct chairs from both District 13 and District 14 voted to nominate (in order of preference) Craig Christenson, Clayton Trotter and Sharon Jackson for Gov. Dunleavy’s consideration. Candidates Bill Cook and Ken McCarty received the least amount of votes and were not forwarded to the governor.

The two Chugiak-Eagle River area State House districts are a “unified district,” explained District 13 chair Michael Tavoliero, meaning all precinct chairs in both districts vote on party business.

The decision to allow both districts to vote was not without controversy, but a motion that would have allowed only District 13 precinct chairs to vote on the nominees failed. Speaking for the minority, District 14 resident Eugene Harnett said it was only fair that voters in a district select their own nominees.

“I think 13 should decide,” he said.

Former District 13 Rep. Dan Saddler — who recently resigned from the post a month early to take a job as communications director for the Department of Natural Resources — said allowing District 14 residents to help select the representative from another district could result in court challenges that could delay the selection process.

“It might be impacted by a lawsuit or something,” said Saddler, who also noted the two districts were originally combined due to low participation at meetings in the past.

The unusual situation arose after Dahlstrom — who was elected in November to replace Saddler after Saddler decided to (unsuccessfully) run for the senate — abdicated in favor of a job as commissioner of the Department of Corrections. That left it up to the party to decide on a list of three names to send to Dunleavy, who can either choose from the three or select someone else to replace Dahlstrom. Dunleavy’s selection must also be confirmed by the Legislature.

Alaska Republican Party chair Glenn Clary acknowledged party rules are not clear on how potential replacement legislators should be selected in unified districts.

“You are blazing a trail that has never been blazed in the Republican party before,” he said.

Clary suggested the group could potentially vote separately, with both vote totals sent to the governor for consideration. He also said he anticipated a rules change at the state party level in the near future.

“The rules just don’t address it correctly,” he said.

District 14 precinct chairs — who currently outnumber their District 13 allies 15-to-8 — argued the group has always presented a unified conservative front and that should remain unchanged.

“In the rules it says we are a combined district,” argued Susan Fischetti, who said District 13 and 14 voters live in the same area and share the same values.

In the end, the unity argument won out. Following the debate, the group spent the next hour getting to know the five candidates, whose views were essentially the same on every issue.

Christenson — a retired Air Force colonel and physician who finished second to Dahlstrom in the Republican primary — said he’s in favor of an SB91 repeal, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and in favor of paying out a full PFD.

“You name it, if it’s conservative and it’s strongly conservative it’s me,” said Christenson, who has previous experience in government as a former deputy commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services.

Trotter is a former lawyer who teaches business law at UAA. He ran for Congress in Texas in 2010 and said his biggest regret was losing to the first congressman who endorsed then-Senator Obama for president.

“I wish I could have taken him out,” he said.

Jackson is a longtime party leader who finished fifth in a crowded Republican primary in August. She said she’s motivated to serve because she wants to help her community.

“I am here to be of service and to bring civility back to the process,” she said.

As he did during his third-place Republican primary run for the House seat, former prosecutor Cook hammered on crime, which he said is the top issue facing Alaskans.

“Everyone I talk to it’s crime,” he said.

McCarty participated via Skype from Costa Rica, where he’s undergoing hip surgery that he said is far cheaper than he could get in Alaska — something he thinks needs to change.

“We need to do things differently,” said McCarty, who also said he thinks more needs to be done to improve education in Alaska.

The candidates essentially agreed on every question posed by the audience, with each saying they are against Medicaid expansion, support every plank of the party platform, strongly support Gov. Dunleavy’s agenda and believe natural resources belong to the people and not the state. Each also said they support an SB91 repeal, are in favor of going back to the old method of allocating the PFD, would join a Republican caucus in the House, support a balanced budget amendment to the state Constitution, and support lowering the spending cap on state budgets.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Tavoliero thanked the party members for remaining civil during the most contentious debate in recent memory.

“This personally was one of the hardest moments I’ve seen as a district,” he said.

Tavoliero said he was thankful the group was able to make a decision and hopes the experience helped bring party members closer in the end.

“All we need to do is just continue to be together,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call 257-4274.

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