State Rep. Andi Story (left), D-Juneau, will face former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, for the Alaska Legislature’s District 3 House seat in this year’s election. (Official photos from Rep. Andi Story and the Alaska State Legislature)

State Rep. Andi Story (left), D-Juneau, will face former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, for the Alaska Legislature’s District 3 House seat in this year’s election. (Official photos from Rep. Andi Story and the Alaska State Legislature)

Rep. Andi Story and former Rep. Bill Thomas will face off in only locally contested legislative race

Juneau’s Rep. Sara Hannan and Sen. Jesse Kiehl among eight unopposed candidates in 50 races.

Only one of Juneau’s three legislative races will be contested in this year’s election, with Rep. Andi Story facing former Haines representative Bill Thomas for the District 3 House seat. Rep. Sara Hannan and Sen. Jesse Kiehl are among the eight lawmakers without a declared opponent in the 50 legislative races this fall.

Story, a Democrat seeking her fourth term, will face a Republican who served four terms between 2005 and 2013 in a district representing a swath of small Southeast Alaska communities surrounding Juneau. However, redistricting that took effect in 2022 places him in the district now represented by Story that covers the Mendenhall Valley, plus northern Panhandle communities including Haines, Skagway and Gustuvus.

The filing deadline for legislative candidates and those seeking Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat currently occupied by Democrat Mary Peltola was June 1. Declared candidates have until June 27 to withdraw from the race to avoid appearing on the ballot.

Story, a Juneau school board member for 15 years before being elected to the Legislature, has continued to focus on education as one of her primary issues by sponsoring multiple bills related to funding and programs. Bills of hers that passed during the most recent session include increasing the amount that can be awarded through the state’s merit-based scholarship program and adding four Alaska Native languages to the state’s list of official languages.

“I think it’s about knowing what our community wants,” she said in an interview Tuesday when asked about facing Thomas. “And in representing them the last few years I really feel it’s important to push forward for a permanent (Base Student Allocation) increase that is much north of the current $680 that we did in one-time funds. I think it’s defined benefits (for public employees) — if we want to have workforce development we have got to have good workforce conditions here.”

Also, she said, having just returned from visiting Haines, Skagway and Klukwan “the ferry, it’s just their top issue— improvements to the ferry system (such as) getting that new mainliner going.”

Thomas, who registered as a candidate last Wednesday, said in an interview the following day he is interested in pursuing issues related to his role as a commercial fisherman, tribal council member and activist in state politics for decades. In addition to serving in the House, he served four years each on the school board and borough Assembly in Haines, as a lobbyist in Juneau beginning in the 1990s, and as a political assistant to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The lifelong Chilkat Valley resident said he’s not that familiar with Story and her work as a legislator, but said his decision to run was motivated by what he believes he can achieve in a bipartisan fashion in a state House that’s closely divided.

“It’s about who can get things done and I believe I can,” he said. “And working with people. I’ve been involved in politics since 1976 at the federal level and primarily at the state level and for a while as a lobbyist.”

Hannan and Kiehl, both Democrats, are not surprisingly supporting Story’s reelection bid.

Kiehl, who worked as a legislative staff member for 18 years before he took office in 2019, said he knows Thomas from when they’ve been at the Capitol at the same time and has worked with him on some things successfully, including during the most recent session when Thomas was among those seeking a legislative override of an executive order by Dunleavy eliminating. the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council. But Kiehl said there are key issues where he and Thomas differ, such as restoring a traditional pension system for public employees that is among the senator’s top declared priorities.

“I think that when you look at the district it is nobody’s safe seat,” Kiehl said. “I think Rep. Story has been doing a great job and if she asks for help I’m happy to (help).”

Hannan said she will spend much of her campaign time this year trying to help other candidates she supports in contested House races, including Story’s, although “I’m not deeply concerned about her election (since) I think she’s been very successful in her job.”

“I think he’s a significant opposition candidate,” Hannan said, referring to Thomas. “But I’m not worried about her ability. So when I think of races and when I’m spending energy on I’m thinking of some of my first-term colleagues since they haven’t been through a reelection.”

Hannan said she was somewhat surprised she didn’t get a challenger for her district that represents the downtown area and Douglas.

“I thought that there’d probably be a single-issue candidate or two, but it didn’t materialize,” she said. “And of course I’m greatly relieved for that. I also think it sort of refocuses that most voters aren’t singular-issue voters.”

Hannan, who is slated to be among Alaska’s delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this summer, said she will also campaign on behalf of Peltola in what is expected to be one of the key battles in the party control of the U.S. House.

The statewide primary is Aug. 20, but in nearly all races the results will essentially serve only as a benchmark for the Nov. 5 general election since Alaska’s open primary means the top four primary finishes will advance regardless of party affiliation. Only three legislative races have more than three candidates.

There are 12 declared candidates in the congressional race, but only three are considered major contenders: Peltola, plus Republican challengers Nick Begich III who lost to the incumbent in 2022 and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom. Among the nine other candidates are four listed as residents of other states — although they could satisfy legal requirements by moving to Alaska before taking office — along with in-state hopefuls like Lady Donna Dutchess who also ran in 2022 and Alaska Independence Party Chair John Wayne Howe.

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

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