Bill Thomas, a lifelong Chilkat resident and former state lawmaker, has filed as a candidate for the District 3 House seat that includes the northern half of Juneau on Wednesday. (Alaska State Legislature photo)

Bill Thomas, a lifelong Chilkat resident and former state lawmaker, has filed as a candidate for the District 3 House seat that includes the northern half of Juneau on Wednesday. (Alaska State Legislature photo)

Former Haines lawmaker Bill Thomas challenging Rep. Andi Story for District 3 House seat

Challenger served in Legislature from 2005-13, been a lobbyist and commercial fisherman for decades.

This is a developing story.

Bill Thomas, a lifelong Chilkat Valley resident and Alaska State House member from 2005 to 2013, is seeking to return to the Legislature by challenging Rep. Andi Story for the District 3 seat that includes the Mendenhall Valley and outlying communities such as Skagway, Haines and Gustavus.

Thomas, a Republican who will celebrate his 77th birthday on Saturday, officially registered as a candidate for the seat Wednesday. In an interview, he said he has remained active as a commercial fisherman, tribal council member and in other areas that are also issues he is interested in addressing with a return to the Alaska State Capitol.

“I still think I have the experience, I know what to do and I’m sure I can attract a good staff, which is a key thing in Juneau,” he said.

Other issues Thomas highlighted as priorities were boosting programs such as trade schools to make prospective workers more attractive to employers who are suffering employee shortages and combating drug overdoses with tougher penalties on people selling illegal substances.

The filing deadline for candidates for state office is Saturday, June 1. The other two Democratic members of Juneau’s delegation, Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Rep. Sara Hannan, were unopposed as of Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas previously served in the District 5 seat that spanned a large number of small Southeast Alaska communities, losing his seat after redistricting resulted in new boundaries in the 2012 election. The boundaries were redrawn again for the 2022 election, with his hometown of Haines now included in a district where Juneau is the largest population center.

Story, a Juneau Democrat, is serving her third term in the Legislature. Thomas said he isn’t comparing himself to her in what he might have done differently in the past or will do in the future, stating he was able to work across party lines while he was at the Capitol.

Also, while it’s been a dozen years since Thomas was a state lawmaker, he’s frequented the Capitol in multiple roles since, including as a lobbyist for the Borough of Haines and political assistant to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

“Nobody ever forgets,” he said. “They always want you to help them out if you can, and I have no problem trying to help people resolve their issues or do it myself.”

During the past session Thomas visited Juneau to successfully lobby against two executive orders by Dunleavy, despite his previous service for the governor. One would have eliminated the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council, the other would have given the governor control of all members of the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board.

He expressed agreement with Juneau’s incumbent legislators on some issues during the past session such as a one-time $680 increase in per-student funding, but questioned the substantially higher amount some lawmakers favored.

There are also key differences with the delegation on key issues, including opposing the revival of a pension system for public employees. Thomas was in the Legislature when the system was replaced with a 401(k)-like approach due to a massive amount of unfunded pension liability, but on Wednesday cited concerns about restrictions on employees being limited in transferring retirement assets if they pursue other occupations in other states as his reason for opposing a revival of the system.

Thomas said he has been a commercial fisherman for about 55 years, starting when he came out of the U.S. Army after serving during the Vietnam War. He served four years on the Haines school board and borough Assembly, and began working as a lobbyist in Juneau during the early 1990s.

He said is still an active commercial fisherman — and was waiting to go out during the afternoon after he registered as a candidate.

“I’m trying to go halibut fishing,” he said. “I’m waiting for high tide. It’s kind of hard to walk up and down that (boat) ramp when it’s straight up and down.”

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

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