A crowd of about 60 people gathered in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Thursday morning for the most expected news of the political season.
“Jesse’s pregnant!” shouted one member of the crowd in jest.
Not quite. But he is running for Alaska Senate.
In a 10-minute speech, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl announced he will seek to represent northern Southeast in the Senate. Kiehl will seek to replace his former boss, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.
“I’m here today — and I appreciate all your support — I’m here today to make it official. I am running for Senate District Q to represent Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Gustavus and Excursion Inlet in the Alaska State Senate,” he said to applause from the crowd.
Kiehl has served as Egan’s aide since Juneau’s senator was named to his seat in 2010 and has worked in the Legislature since 2000. Conflict-of-interest guidelines prevent legislative staffers from running for office, so Kiehl resigned Wednesday, freeing him for Thursday’s announcement, which had long been expected.
“I want to offer a track record of some successes and my skills and ability to try to take the right approach to lead Alaska forward: Out of trying times and into a bright and prosperous future for all of us,” he said.
He said he does not have a “top issue” of focus in his campaign.
“You can’t have top issues. There’s so many critical things for Alaska … that you really have to be able to work across a broad spectrum,” he said.
Kiehl was born in Anchorage in 1976 and moved to Juneau in 1998, soon after his graduation from Whitman College. He worked for the state board of education and the governor’s children’s cabinet before beginning work in the Legislature.
He was elected to the CBJ Assembly in 2011, defeating Brad Fluetsch. He was most recently re-elected in 2016 and was prevented by term limits from running again.
He is married to Karen Allen, and they have two daughters.
Kiehl is one of the best-paid staffers in the Legislature and acknowledged that seeking office would mean a significant pay cut.
He said that he would actively pursue membership in a coalition majority within the Senate and has not changed his opposition to construction of a road north from Juneau.
Kiehl is the third person to announce his intent to run for Senate District Q, which covers House Districts 33 and 34 in northern Southeast.
AFL-CIO lobbyist Don Etheridge filed a letter of intent with the Public Offices Commission earlier this week, and retired fishing executive Larry Cotter announced his intention earlier this year.
Etheridge said he didn’t have any comment on Kiehl’s entry into the race.
“We’re ready,” he said.
“I welcome the entrance of Jesse and Don to the Senate race in District Q. It’s always good to have a diversity of opinions and personalities. That’s what democracy is all about. I look forward to a good, clean campaign that’s focused on the issues,” Cotter said by phone.
“I don’t know who else will get in the race, but I think we’ll have a good campaign talking about the issues and talking about the future of the state,” Kiehl said.
Steve Handy pursues House seat
Among the crowd at Kiehl’s event were two Democrats seeking to represent House District 33 in the Legislature: Sara Hannan and Steve Handy, who announced his intentions this week.
Handy, member of Juneau Mountain Rescue for 11 years, became a full-time law student after blowing out his knee.
Why is he running?
“Wolves,” he said with a joke, before continuing.
“No, a lot of different things. I want to provide a clear, two-way channel between the constituents and that building right there,” he said, gesturing to the Capitol.
Handy served on the board of directors for Eaglecrest Ski Area and in 2014 was a legislative intern in the office of Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage.
He said the biggest issues that grabbed his attention this year were “education, crime, our budget — obviously — and I would say the overarching umbrella to all of that is the disenfranchisement a lot of decisions feel like.”
“They have to feel part of it,” Handy said of Alaskans. “That’s the main driver. That’s the motivation.”
He said he is working on a campaign website and registration with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
He and Sara Hannan will be running against each other in the Aug. 21 Democratic primary for House District 33. Independent candidate Chris Dimond has announced plans to run in the general election.
“I think it’s great. I’m a firm believer that the essence of democracy is people’s involvement, and the more people who are engaged, the better it is,” Hannan said.
The deadline for candidates to file for office is June 1.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.