Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)

Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)

Bill Thomas drops out of District 3 House race, says there isn’t time for fishing and campaigning

Haines Republican cites rough start to commercial season; incumbent Andi Story now unopposed.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Former State Rep. Bill Thomas said Friday he is dropping out of the District 3 House race for a quintessential Alaska reason: major engine trouble with his boat that’s causing too much upheaval during the commercial fishing season for him to focus on campaigning.

“I’ve got major engine problems and I should have been fishing my halibut quota,” the Haines resident said during a Friday phone call. “I thought we had it fixed today, but we didn’t — again.”

Thomas’ withdrawal, while not yet officially filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, will mean all three members of Juneau’s legislative delegation will be unopposed on the ballot in this fall’s election. Thomas, a Republican who served four terms in the House between 2005 and 2013, was challenging Democratic Rep. Andi Story who is seeking her fourth term.

Declared candidates for state office have until June 27 to withdraw from their races to avoid appearing on the ballot.

Story, on Friday evening, said while not facing a declared opponent will make her summer and fall campaign season earlier, “I still have a lot of work to do.”

“Anytime you are running for election you have a lot of people to meet, to touch base with and going into another session you want to make sure you’re representing people that you are serving as well as you can,” she said. “So I still have a lot of work to do, but it’s nothing like the work I would have had to have done with having Bill in the race.”

Thomas, 77, has been a commercial fisherman for 55 years and active in politics for nearly 50. He said he wanted to return to the Legislature to focus on issues including drug crime prevention (noting a substantial fentanyl bust in the nearby community of Klukwan was announced by officials Friday), offering performance scholarships for vocational trades and veterans issues (he suggested declaring July as Veterans’ Month).

“Maybe it’s time to smell the roses, but I’m hoping people will pick up at least the ideas that I had,” he said.

Story said adding a year of career and technical training to an Alaska Performance Scholarship bill that passed during the past session was among her achievements, and those scholarships are about “getting a pipeline of workers in-state to fill our jobs” which remain an ongoing issue of focus.

Meanwhile, Thomas’ near-term plans seem to involve the smell of engine fumes and fish more than roses.

“That’s the only income I have, is fishing,” he said. “And I have halibut IFQs. I normally fish them by now and then I switch over to gillnet, but I’ve been working on it now for about three weeks or so maybe longer.”

The delay is due to turbo, aftercooler and other problems on the 34-foot-long gillnetting vessel he built in 1987, Thomas said. And even if he can get the mechanical issues resolved, “the tides are screwed up right now” in terms of being able to get out when the cycles are low enough not to put gear at risk.

All of which means trying to catch enough fish while also making it to events a candidate should — such as Juneau Gold Rush Days next weekend — isn’t going to happen.

“I have 13,000 pounds (of quota) and at the rate people have been going it’ll take two weeks to do that,” he said. “And I know that people were expecting me to be in Juneau and I shouldn’t be for that, but I can’t afford to miss (fishing).”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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