Alaska Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka addresses reporters in Anchorage, Alaska. Tshibaka announced plans on Monday, March 29, 2021, to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a fellow Republican, in the 2022 election. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen)

Department of Administration head announces Senate run

Tshibaka served in Dunleavy administration

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

An early Republican candidate announced plans Monday to seek the Alaska U.S. Senate seat that has been held since 2002 by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Kelly Tshibaka, who has led the Alaska Department of Administration since early 2019, in a statement said she is running “for the Alaskans who believe government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The D.C. insiders need to be held accountable to us.”

Her campaign said she was resigning as commissioner to pursue the Senate bid, and a campaign video referred to her as former commissioner.

Murkowski is widely seen as a moderate and has at times been at odds with her party, including on issues like abortion and in her criticism of former President Donald Trump. Her office in Washington, D.C. on Monday said it could not speak on a campaign-related matter.

Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, who was acquitted in a trial last month of a charge of incitement of insurrection related to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot. Earlier this month, state Republican Party leaders voted to censure Murkowski over that vote, with party leaders in some other states taking similar actions against Republicans who voted as she did.

Murkowski filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on March 9, records show. Speaking to reporters in Juneau last month, Murkowski did not directly answer whether she would seek re-election next year.

She said she is “doing what I should be doing to ensure that I have that option and that opportunity to run for yet another term.”

Tshibaka is among those who have been seen as possible candidates for the U.S. Senate race and over the last year or so has sought to raise her profile. She has used social media to promote her department’s work, highlight her family and faith, express support for Republican candidates and outline stances on issues such as gun rights.

Tshibaka has overseen a vast department, with agencies including the Division of Motor Vehicles, Personnel and Labor Relations and the office that maintains technology infrastructure for the state executive branch. Tshibaka has at times butted heads with unions and with lawmakers over procurement issues or a proposal to close some Division of Motor Vehicle offices.

Her resume includes work in the offices of inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice before joining Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration.

In a campaign video, Tshibaka seeks to paint Murkowski as cozy with President Joe Biden, saying Murkowski supported Biden for president. The Hill reported in January that Murkowski said she did not vote for Trump in the November election but wrote in another person.

Tshibaka in the video also says Murkowski “voted against common sense judges,” as a headline in the corner reads: “Murkowski Opposes Barrett Nomination.” Murkowski last fall objected to the Senate taking up a U.S. Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election but ultimately voted to confirm Trump’s selection of Amy Coney Barrett to the court.

[State GOP wants Murkowski to stop identifying as a Republican]

Murkowski opposed Trump’s 2018 nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the court but asked to be recorded as “present” for the vote.

Tshibaka said Murkowski is “so out of touch that she even voted to remove Donald Trump from office, even after he was already gone,” referring to the impeachment trial that occurred after Trump left office. Trump won Alaska in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Murkowski has said her vote in the trial was in keeping with her oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

The landscape for the 2022 elections in Alaska will be different. A voter initiative passed in November scrapped party primaries for a system in which the top four vote-getters advance to the general election. It also instituted a ranked-choice voting system for general elections.

Murkowski was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, her father, who had held the seat since 1981. She won a tight race in 2004 against Democrat Tony Knowles and in 2010, she lost her Republican primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller before winning the general election with a write-in campaign.

Murkowski easily won re-election in 2016 in a crowded field in which she garnered 44% of the vote.

Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the state Democratic Party, in a fundraising appeal earlier this month, said the party was “prepping” its efforts to “retire Lisa.”

The state Division of Elections does not yet show a candidate list for next year’s races.

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