Gubernatorial candidate Les Gara, right, announced as his running mate Jessica Cook, left, an Eagle River school teacher, at a news conference in Anchorage on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Erin Kirkland)

Gubernatorial candidate Les Gara, right, announced as his running mate Jessica Cook, left, an Eagle River school teacher, at a news conference in Anchorage on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Erin Kirkland)

Gara announces running mate in gubernatorial race

Schoolteacher Jessica Cook joins Democratic ticket

Gubernatorial candidate Les Gara announced on Monday that teacher Jessica Cook will be his running mate, telling reporters she shared his vision of Alaska’s future.

“I’ve known her as she’s been an advocate for children and schools,” Gara said at an Anchorage news conference. “She understands her way around the political system and is not a fan of inaction.”

Cook is currently a sixth grade teacher at Alpenglow Elementary in Eagle River, a position she said she would remain in until the end of the school year. During the conference, Cook and Gara emphasized a shared belief in equal opportunity regardless of the conditions one was born into and that Alaska was no longer a place people wanted to stay. Cook said Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s cuts to the state budget in 2019 had damaged the state’s ability to retain workers and their families.

“Cuts like that do not build a better future,” Cook said. “People are going to leave because they don’t have the security in the people that are educating their children.”

[Anchorage rep announces bid for open Senate seat]

Gara said he’s known Cook for 15 years and shares many of his concerns for Alaska. At several points in the conference, Gara cited Alaska’s high rates of worker turnover and blamed Dunleavy’s policies for worsening the issue. In addition to criticizing the governor’s cuts to state spending — education in particular — Gara said the state was giving away money in the form of oil tax credits to large corporations.

“Jessica has lived her adult life creating opportunity, she’s done that as a teacher, as a mother of three, as a grandmother of five,” Gara said. “Alaska’s future is personal to her.”

Cook said she was born in Alaska and raised in Eagle River in part by an adoptive family and in part by her grandparents after her mother died when Cook was 3. According to the Gara campaign Cook has been a teacher for 20 years and holds two master’s degrees in education.

Gara is currently the only Democratic candidate for governor but Cook said he didn’t ask about party affiliation until after she had agreed to be his running mate. Cook said she was undeclared for many years but has been a registered Democrat for a few years now. Gara said he wanted his ticket to reflect the diversity of Alaska and that it would’ve created a knot in his stomach to have announced “two white guys from Anchorage.”

Cook, who identifies as multiethnic, said she’s half Black and half white, but “in both of those halves reside many different ethnicities.”

With Gara having named a running mate, Dunleavy remains the only gubernatorial candidate not to have a lieutenant governor on his ticket. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced in December he will not seek re-election and the Dunleavy campaign has yet to announce a replacement.

The other candidates for governor and their running mates are: Libertarians Billy Toien and Shirley Rainbolt; Republicans Bruce Walden and Tanya Lange; independents Bill Walker and Heidi Drygas and Republicans Chris Kurka and Paul Hueper.

Gara said at the press conference he and Cook were the only candidates to be pro-choice. As governor, Walker allowed an education bill to become law without his signature that prevented abortion providers from teaching sex-ed classes in Alaska schools. The portion of that bill establishing the prohibition was written by Dunleavy, then a senator. However, at a rally in October 2021, Drygas told a crowd in Juneau her administration would not interfere with a woman’s right to choose.

Cook and Gara both stressed the importance of keeping people in the state and supportive state services such as schools, public safety and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“Les and I care about Alaka’s kids, everyone deserves a chance to be successful, regardless of race, or wealth or poverty,” Cook said. “We need to keep our training and our resources here.”

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

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

Most Read