Former state lawmaker from Fairbanks John Coghill was in Juneau on Friday, April 22, 2022, and is running for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, vacated recently by the death of Don Young. Coghill faces a crowded field but says he has the experience and pragmatism to get the job done. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Former state lawmaker John Coghill says Congress needs his experience

Fairbanks lawmaker says record shows pragmatism, bipartisanship

Not long after Don Young’s death, several people reached out to John Coghill asking if he’d be interested in running for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“At first, I thought it was a crazy idea,” Coghill said Friday in an interview with the Empire. “I’m a praying man. I went to pray on the Sunday after he died. I fasted and prayed all day Monday and Tuesday, and the conclusion I came to is, it’s a daunting task, No. 1, but if I don’t do it, could I really live with myself, knowing what I know about Alaska.”

Coghill served in the Alaska State Legislature from 1999 until he lost the Republican primary election in 2020 to now-state Sen. Robert Myers Jr., R-North Pole. His father was longtime Alaska politician Jack Coghill, a delegate in the 1958 constitutional convention and who served in both the territorial and state legislatures and was lieutenant governor in the early 1990s.

Born in the territory of Alaska, Coghill started in the state House of Representatives before becoming a senator in 2009 where he at times served as both Senate majority and minority leader. Coghill defines himself as a conservative, a constitutionalist but also a pragmatist. He said his time in the Legislature demonstrated a record of bipartisanship and his long experience in the state has made his name well known.

The state’s new ranked-choice voting system factored into his decision to run.

“In the ranked-choice voting, the votes are going to go up, so in my mind, the more conservatives you have in that rank those votes will go up to somebody, hopefully me,” Coghill said. “But if not me, then hopefully, the people who would vote me as second choice would go up to another conservative person, which in my view would be the best thing for Alaska.”

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Coghill said the country needs to increase its productive capacity and Alaska could become a storehouse for America. That would entail expanding the state’s resource industry, including in Southeast Alaska. The mineral potential in Southeast Alaska is critical for the United States, Coghill said, and federal regulations like the Roadless Rule needed to be reexamined to encourage more responsible resource production. Coghill said he supports the controversial Pebble Mine, and blamed an international environmental movement for spreading misinformation about the mine’s impact.

“No Alaskan wants to mess up a fishery. I think Pebble Mine can be done and should be done. I also think it should be done in a way that protects our fisheries,” Coghill said.

There are currently 48 candidates for the special primary election to fill Alaska’s lone House seat, but the winner of the primary election will only serve until January 2023 when the winner of the regular election in November is sworn in. So far only 19 candidates, including Coghill, have filed for the regular election but the filing deadline is June 1.

In addition to the large field of candidates, Coghill faces competition from some big names in the Republican Party. Nick Begich III was running for the seat prior to Young’s death and recently earned the endorsement of the Alaska Republican Party. Former Gov. Sarah Palin also announced her candidacy and was quickly endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

“The reason I’m doing this is because there’s an experience level that I have that I think is important for Alaska, and America,” Coghill said. “I think the tried and true nature of my work and what I’ve done, the political winds that I’ve faced, and my ability to work across the aisle are assets to Alaska, and America quite frankly.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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