Alaska’s 2018 Primaries: What You Need To Know

If you are reading this, thank you. Not because you’re reading my blog (that’s nice too) but because it probably means you’re participating in the democratic process and looking for information about Alaska’s upcoming Primary Election on August 21st. It’s not often obvious where to go for good voter information before an election.

This post is an attempt to remedy that. Here I will share what information I have gathered, and point you towards a handful of useful links and resources so you can be prepared for Alaska’s primary. I don’t attempt to cover every candidate in every State House and Senate district, but Ballotpedia’s Ballot Tool (also linked below) will narrow down candidates to your particular district, and provide profiles if available.

Disclaimer: I attempt to present this information in an unbiased manner. I am a left-leaning voter but this is not an opinion piece; this election resource should be useful to people on every part of the political spectrum.

2018 Alaska Primary Guide

So where to start? A good place might be the official Alaska Division of Elections website, which lists all the candidates on the 2018 ballot. However this resource can be a tad overwhelming, and not particularly useful on its own, though it does list contact info and websites for most of the candidates.

A great resource for election information is Ballotpedia. If you follow that link, you can enter your address, select “Primary Election on August 21, 2018,” and you will see a sample ballot, including the candidates for whatever House or Senate district you belong to. You don’t need to research candidates for all 40 House districts, thank goodness. This won’t be the last time I provide a link to Ballotpedia’s election coverage.

The usefulness of this next resource will depend on your political leanings, but The Alaska Center is an organization whose main issues are climate change, salmon conservation, renewable energy and healthy democratic communities. You can find a list of their endorsed candidates here. If I find other resources for endorsed candidates in the near future, I will update this post.

Vote411 Voter Guide features informative Q&As with candidates, though not every candidate has responded.

Campaign Signage Alaska Primaries 2018 (lower res)
Campaign signs set up in midtown Anchorage, 2018. Source: Jonathan Ross (CC)


Governor Bill Walker was elected in 2014 as an Independent with the support of Democrats, but he has faced criticism over high crime rates, a budget deficit impacted by plunging oil prices, and the subsequent capping of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

Now incumbent Gov. Bill Walker faces both Republican and Democratic challengers in the primaries, effectively a three-headed race between Walker, the unopposed Democratic nominee Mark Begich, and Republican frontrunners Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell.

Dunleavy moved to Alaska over 30 years ago, and wants to start Alaska on a “new trajectory.” His platform includes balancing the budget by reducing state spending and driving business investment, while also protecting Alaskans’ PFDs and tackling the state’s troubling crime problem.

Dunleavy’s main Republican challenger Mead Treadwell served as the state’s Lieutenant Governor from 2010-2014; Treadwell is hoping that his political background and business experience will propel him to the Republican nomination. His main issues are not radically different than Dunleavy’s, and his views on gay rights, abortion, and the Affordable Care Act fall well in line with the modern GOP platform.

Democratic candidate Mark Begich has served as U.S. State Senator, as well as Mayor of Anchorage from 2003-2009. Like Dunleavy and Treadwell, he wants to cut state spending while protecting the PFD. This is a consistent theme on both sides of the aisle, despite some polls suggesting that the majority of Alaskans either support the cuts or at least understand why they are necessary. I am no political strategist, but apparently targeting the roughly 43% of people who oppose the cuts is good political strategy in 2018.

Then-Senator Mark Begich (left) speaks with Adm. Papp in 2011. Source: “Coast Guard Compass” by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

There is significant concern on the left that Begich is playing the role of spoiler for Walker, and possibly handing the race to the Republicans. A poll commissioned by the labor organization AFL-CIO suggests that either Begich or Walker could defeat Dunleavy, but with votes split between them this becomes much less likely, with Walker polling at a distant third. AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami has even suggested that he may ask either Walker or Begich to withdraw from the race, depending on how the Republican primary shakes out. This is an interesting story to monitor as we move toward the general election in November.

Dunleavy and Treadwell both support the continuation of the Pebble Mine permitting process, while Walker and Begich oppose it. According to Begich, it’s “the wrong mine in the wrong place.” How you feel about Pebble Mine most likely influences how you feel about these candidates in general.

Here is a televised debate between Begich, Dunleavy, Walker and Hawkins (who has since dropped out of the race), about rural issues like Pebble Mine, tribal management and commercial fishing. Dunleavy, Begich and Hawkins also participated in a public forum debate at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference in early June.

The rest of the Republican pack includes Christian conservative Gerald Heikes, the mysterious Darin Colbry, Merica Hlatcu (his name is Merica and he wants to bring an NHL team to Alaska), and Michael Sheldon – his fun fact is that he wants to remove fluoride from Alaska’s water reservoirs.

Lynette Clark is the Party Chair of the fascinating Alaskan Independence Party, and she is running for Governor as an Independent. The AIP contends that the vote for Alaskan statehood in 1958 was invalid, and they would like a chance at a redo, though they claim (not all that convincingly) that they are not a secessionist movement. I could easily write an entire post on the AIP and their provocative founder Joe Vogler, but this isn’t the place.

William “Billy” Toien is running on the Libertarian ticket, and this marks the fourth time he has run for Governor of Alaska.

Walker and Mallott, 2014
Gov Bill Walker (left) joined forces with Byron Mallott and the Democrats to win in 2014. Begich complicates his chance at a repeat in 2018. Source: “Walker-Mallott embrace” (CC BY 2.0) by jkbrooks85

Lieutenant Governor

The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska serves as a second-in-command to Governor, and the primary responsibilities of the position include oversight of state election laws and The Division of Elections, along with supervising Administrative Regulations and use of the State Seal. These are the candidates for Lieutenant Governor in 2018:

Democratic Nominee for Lt Governor

Debra Call / Facebook

Debra Call AK

When Edgar Blatchford dropped out of the race in early June, Debra Call became the lone Democratic nominee for Lt Governor. Call is an Alaska Native Tribal official who was hand-picked as a running mate by Mark Begich, who joined the race for Governor very near the deadline. Call is Dena’ina Athabascan originally from Knik, AK who now resides in Anchorage. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

Republican Nominees for Lt Governor

Lynn Gattis / Campaign Website


Gattis is a former member of the Alaska State House of Representatives, with a BA in Aviation Technology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her primary objectives as Lt Governor are to update and secure Alaska’s election services, grow the economy while keeping taxes low, and achieving fiscal stability through business investment and sustainable resource development. Here is her voting history while serving in the Alaska State House.

Edie Grunwald / Campaign Website


Grunwald doesn’t have previous political experience, but she believes new leadership is needed in Juneau. She spent 30+ years in the Air Force before eventually retiring with the rank of Colonel. The murder of her teenage son in 2016 has pushed criminal reform to the center of her political platform (she’s not the only running politician that has issues with SB 91). She also wants to rework the state budget and “give the people their PFDs back.”

Sharon Jackson / Campaign Website


Sharon Jackson served in the United States Army, and worked as a certified Electronic Technician after that. She also worked as Constituent Liaison for Senator Dan Sullivan, and more recently founded and serves as President of Republican Women of Anchorage. Her key issues are overseeing a “fair and honest” and more affordable election process and the reinstatement of full PFDs.

Kevin Mayer / Campaign Website


Mayer was born in Nebraska but has lived in Alaska with his wife for over 30 years. He is a former ConocoPhillips senior executive, and his political experience includes time spent on the Anchorage Assembly, the State House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate. He positions himself as a candidate who is tough on crime, and he also wants to limit state spending and grow the economy while cutting “unnecessary” programs. His voting record can be found here.

Gary Stevens / Alaska Senate Website


Gary Stevens was born in Oregon and got his PhD at the University of Oregon, but has lived in Alaska since 1970. He served in the Alaska State House of Representatives from 2001-2003, and is currently serving in the Alaska State Senate. His Ballotpedia profile can be found here, and you can see his voting history on VoteSmart.

Stephen Wright / Campaign Website


Wright was born on the Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, AK in 1969. He served over 20 years in the U.S. military, and wants to bring his experience to the position of Lt Governor. Wright wants to bring the state budget “back into balance” and limit government overreach, and he supports the development of Pebble Mine and ANWR. You can get a clear idea of his political beliefs via VoteSmart’s “Political Courage Test.”

U.S. House of Representatives

Republican incumbent Don Young is the longest currently serving U.S. House member, having served in Congress for over 130 years now. That second part isn’t true but it feels like it is: the infamous Young is the only member of the House to have served under Nixon, and he’s running for his 24th term as Alaska’s House representative. Here is a record of his sponsored bills, voting record, alleged misconduct and advocacy group scores. A troubling detail: his percentage of missed votes from 1973 to 2018 is 14.5%, well above the median of 2.4%.

Don Young with Airman
U.S. Representative Don Young (left) visits Eielson Air Force Base in 2017. Source: “F-35 Community Showcase” by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Here are the Democratic challengers to Don Young’s House seat:

Dimitri Shein / Campaign Website


Dimitri Shein is a Russian immigrant who has lived in Alaska since he was 12 years old. His wife Melissa is an Alaska Native, and they have six children (four adopted). He is running on a progressive campaign of Medicare for All, increased public school funding, and an end to corporate tax handouts and corporate money in politics. His campaign does not accept PAC contributions.

Carol “Kitty” Hafner / Campaign Website


Hafner is running for the U.S. House as a Democrat who doesn’t live in Alaska (and in fact has never been to the state), which I didn’t actually know was possible. Hafner is a former flight attendant and biotechnology industry professional who has pledged not to take campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. She supports net neutrality, federal legalization of marijuana, better care and support for veterans, investing in Alaska Native communities, and (like Shein) a Medicare for All system.

Independents running for U.S. House on the Democratic Ballot:

Alyse Galvin / Campaign Website

alyse galvin ak

Galvin is a mother of four who has worked in the service, healthcare and education industries. For the last five years she has headed Great Alaska Schools, a statewide organization that she helped launch which advocates for strong public education for all Alaskan children. Along with enhancement of K-12 educational services, she supports net neutrality, abortion rights, renewable energy development, oil & gas development (she supports drilling in the ANWR but not Pebble Mine), and strengthening the Alaskan economy through diversification.

Christopher Cumings / Campaign Website

christopher cumings ak

Cumings is a Ketchikan resident who is making health care his key issue in a campaign for the nomination. This focus on quality of life is informed by his personal struggle with opioid addiction; he can personally relate to the epidemic which is being felt across the country and he feels that a change is needed. He supports universal health care and an increased focus on mental health care, along with early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage. He is outgunned in campaign fundraising, but hopes that his message will stick with voters.

Here are the two Republican nominees running against Don Young:

Thomas “John” Nelson / Campaign Website

John Nelson ak

John Nelson says he admires Don Young but that it’s time to finally pass the torch. Nelson was born and raised in Alaska, and lives in Wasilla working as a financial advisor. He pledges to stop the “discourse of division” taking place in Washington politics, and to put a stop to federal overreach and wasteful spending. Other promises of his campaign include passing a responsible and balanced budget and finding “responsible solutions” to the problems facing health care and social security.

Jed Whittaker /

jed whitaker ak

Whittaker is a longtime staple of Alaskan politics. As part of the Green Party in 1996 he came in second to incumbent Ted Stevens, and then in 2016 tried to run without a party, which is technically possible given the proper amount of signatures (which he fell short of). This year, he is running as a Republican with no online presence and no ads. He calls himself the “Don Quixote” of Alaskan politics, and says frankly that he’s “not going to win” against Don Young. For Whittaker, running seems like more of a democratic imperative, and a way to push forward new ideas. Honestly, more power to him.

Ballot Measure 1: Salmon Habitat Protections & Permits Initiative

Update: This Ballot Measure has been approved by the Alaska Supreme Court and will be on the November General Election Ballot, not on the August Primaries. Still, it can’t hurt to learn about the issue now.

The “Stand for Salmon” ballot initiative centers on an industry that is important to many Alaskans both culturally and economically. Essentially, voting “Yes” means you support changing the way permits are reviewed and issued for any projects that would have an effect on bodies of water important to anadromous fish.

The measure would establish protection standards for fish and wildlife habitats that may be threatened by “adverse” or unrestorable damage brought about by any project, minor or major in scale. Permits could be denied if the proposed project would cause substantial damage to the wildlife habitat, as determined by the Department of Fish and Game.

Voting “No” means you do not support these new standards or permit processes.

Sockeye Salmon Aalska Fish and Game
Alaskan salmon are a huge part of Alaskan industry and cultural identity. Source: “Sockeye Salmon, Kenai River” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by USFWSAlaska

The main supporters of the measure are Yes For Salmon and Stand For Salmon, who say that the current protections are vague and limited, and leave salmon habitats vulnerable to “political interference” and irresponsible development. According to the ADF&G, the current laws protect less than 50% of salmon-bearing streams in Alaska. Proponents of the measure also say this would give communities a chance to have a say in projects before permitting goes through.

The list of opponents to the ballot measure is a long one. The opponents are organized under the Stand For Alaska group, who say that the initiative is a misguided solution to a “problem that doesn’t exist.” They cite the already established protection laws, and say that this new system would seriously hamper Alaskan development and lead to lost jobs across the state. These groups have spent big money to get this message to Alaskans, raising over $9 million in contributions compared to Yes For Salmon’s approximately $1.1 million.

The top donors for the “YES” side are The Alaska Center, New Venture Fund, John Childs, Wild Salmon Center, Cook Inletkeeper, and Alaska Conservation Foundation.

The top donors for the “NO” side are Donlin Gold, Conoco Phillips, BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc, Pebble Limited Partnership, and Kinross Fort Knox.

A detailed breakdown of the ballot measure can be found on Ballotpedia.

If you can’t make it to the polls on Tuesday, August 21st, you should check out the list of places and hours you can go to vote early, which you can do anytime between now and Election Day. To find your polling place ahead of Election Day, just follow this link.

Featured Image: “IMG_3219” (CC BY 2.0) by EvinDC