Sitkan Enters House Race in New District

    Sitka’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins has filed papers to run for the state House of Representatives in the newly formed district that includes Sitka.
    Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat, will face incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas, a Republican whose hometown of Haines is now in the same district as Sitka.
    Kreiss-Tomkins, 23, is a lifelong resident of Sitka, and recently finished his coursework for a degree at Yale University. He filed as a candidate on Friday, the deadline to enter legislative races around the state.
    Neither he nor Thomas face a primary opponent.
    Kreiss-Tomkins said this morning he thinks the race in House District 34 is “wide open.”
    The new district, created earlier this year by the Alaska Redistricting Board, includes Sitka, Haines and several small Native villages.
    Sitka is by far the biggest town in the district, with Haines next.
    Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson had no trouble beating Sitka Democrats in recent years in District 2 political battles, but Kreiss-Tomkins said the new political map, redrawn after the 2010 federal census, offers “much more favorable political geography.”
    Wrangell and Petersburg are no longer part of the district that includes Sitka.
    Kreiss-Tomkins acknowledged that he had work to do establishing political support in places like Angoon, Kake, Metlakatla and Hoonah, but said Thomas is not particularly well known in Sitka.
    “I think we both have a challenge,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “More than half of this district does not have an incumbent.”
    A 2007 graduate of Sitka High, Kreiss-Tomkins said he had been in contact with potential Democratic candidates from Haines in the lead-up to the filing deadline last week, and decided to jump into the race only when no other challenger to Thomas emerged.
    Kreiss-Tomkins, who still needs to complete a thesis to graduate from Yale, said he has no other distractions this summer, and plans to dive head-long into the race for the House. He said he expects to have the support of the state Democratic Party, which considers the race a chance to pick up a seat for its caucus.
    Thomas, a commercial fisherman and member of the Sealaska Corporation’s Board of Directors, was first elected to the House in 2004.
    That year, he beat Tim June, a Haines Democrat, by 76 votes in a battle for the seat vacated by Albert Kookesh, who left to run for state Senate.
    Thomas is currently the co-chairman of the House Finance Committee and is seeking a fifth term representing Haines.
    Kreiss-Tomkins thinks he can win support in both Sitka and Haines, including among local Republicans.
    “I’m much more interested in Sitkans, than Sitka Republicans or Sitka Democrats,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “I’m more interested in the person than the party.”
    He also sees advantages in being only 23. With no spouse, or permanent job, Kreiss-Tomkins said, he can dedicate himself fully to running for office.
    If elected, he would be the youngest member of the Legislature and one of the youngest ever elected to the House or Senate in Alaska. Kreiss-Tomkins called himself a “high-energy” person who will “honestly represent people’s interests.”
    He acknowledged that Thomas will tout his experience and position on the Finance Committee as the race heats up, but said the House has been “part of the problem” in Alaska in recent years.
    He said the state Senate has done a good job representing the interests of Alaska, but questioned the House’s support for a proposal to lower oil taxes and said the body had “lowballed” education funding.
    Kreiss-Tomkins began his political career as an Alaska organizer for Howard Dean in 2004, when the former Vermont governor was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Kreiss-Tomkins was a middle school student at the time. That same year, he also worked for the campaign of former Alaska Gov., Tony Knowles, a Democrat who was running for U.S. Senate against Lisa Murkowski.
    In 2008, Kreiss-Tomkins was an active supporter of the Obama campaign in Alaska.
    Kreiss-Tomkins said today he is assembling his campaign team and has started to think about raising money. One of the biggest obstacles will be the cost of traveling around the region and introducing himself to voters, he said.
    But he’s not worried about questions regarding his age or inexperience.
    “I would welcome a discussion of the issues,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

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