Assembly member and legislative candidate Jerry Nankervis chairs a public safety committee meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Assembly member and legislative candidate Jerry Nankervis chairs a public safety committee meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Door to door, Nankervis seeks understanding in House District 34

Republican candidate and former police officer says public safety is No. 1 priority

Walking from house to house during his legislative campaign, Jerry Nankervis faces a perpetual guessing game.

When the door opens, will it be someone he knows from hockey? Is it someone he ran into during his 24 years with the Juneau Police Department? Does the person know him from his time on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly or his fishing career? Has the person simply tried some of his award-winning beer? Or, after all of that, will it be someone he’s never met?

“There’s a lot of good people in this town,” Nankervis said during a Thursday afternoon interview with the Empire.

Going from door to door turns you from a name on a sign to an actual person, he said, and that helps in understanding.

As he runs for the statehouse seat representing House District 34 as a Republican, Nankervis said understanding is one of his goals. Juneau voters might not agree on everything, but if they can at least understand where each other are coming from, they can avoid the acrimony seen in national politics.

“They’re not bad, they’re just different,” Nankervis said in explanation.

If the state was a company, “it’s all our company, so we all get a say in it,” he said.

Nankervis, 56, was born in Michigan and attended Northern Michigan University, studying conservation and adding a minor in criminal justice. He met his future wife, Lisa Golisek, at the university, and followed her to Alaska in 1984, first to Anchorage and then to Kodiak, where he became a police officer. The two married and have two sons, Ian and Elliot.

In April 1987, he moved to Juneau, chasing an opening with the Juneau Police Department. He rose through the ranks, becoming an officer and advancing to the rank of captain before retiring in 2011. At the time, he told the Empire he’d continue to fish commercially (he still holds a permit) and keep up with his hobbies.

In Thursday’s interview, he said that wasn’t enough to keep his hands or his mind occupied. The following year, when someone asked him if he’d be willing to run for a seat on the Assembly, he said yes. He was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2015. In the meantime, he kept up his hobbies: fishing, coaching youth baseball and hockey, refereeing hockey games, baking bread, brewing beer and building home improvement projects.

Ask him if he’s driven, and he’ll freely admit it.

Public safety is his No. 1 campaign issue. Going from door to door, Nankervis noted something first mentioned by Senate District Q candidate Don Etheridge: He’s seeing a lot more home security systems than he used to.

“Compared to three years ago, when I walked (while running for the Assembly), I’m saddened by the number of houses that have the Ring doorbells or a surveillance system,” he said.

He said he hears a lot of people who want the state to prevent repeat offenses. If someone commits a crime, they don’t want to give a person a chance to do it again.

“What folks are getting tired of is that it’s the same folks over and over,” Nankervis said.

He believes penalties may not be severe enough to serve as a deterrent.

“If the penalty isn’t severe enough, why stop?” he asked.

Asked about his philosophy of government, he said he is generally in favor of market-based systems and that right-sized government is important to him.

When it comes to budgets, he said he tried on the assembly to abide by a simple question: “What’s a need and what’s a want? What do you really need?”

“You’re better off deciding what to do with your money than me,” he said.

As a police officer, he observed that most people were happy if their issues were resolved before he got involved. If someone isn’t hurting other people or disturbing other people’s property, there isn’t much cause for intervention.

He’s a firm believer in deliberative process, he said.

“Some people are concerned government takes too long to do something,” he said, but patience allows everyone to have their say and move closer to understanding. “It does take a while, and that’s not necessarily bad and it’s not necessarily good.”

Running for public office is a continuation of his work as a police officer, he said.

As an officer, “I pledged my life to the community,” he said, and it’s a pledge he hopes to continue in the Legislature.

Candidate profiles

Ahead of the Nov. 6 general election, the Empire is publishing profiles of the six local candidates who will appear on the ballot. One willrun each day. Here’s when you can expect to see a story:

• Oct. 18: Don Etheridge

• Oct. 19: Chris Dimond

• Oct. 21: Jesse Kiehl

• Oct. 22: Jerry Nankervis

• Oct. 23: Andi Story

• Oct. 24: Sara Hannan

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

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