Sara Hannan, running as an Democrat for state House District 33, talks about her campaign during an interview at the Juneau Empire on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sara Hannan, running as an Democrat for state House District 33, talks about her campaign during an interview at the Juneau Empire on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Trauma in Vladivostok turns into Juneau resolve for candidate Sara Hannan

House District 33 candidate says violence-prevention and fiscal plan are her priorities

For Sara Hannan, there is a night in Vladivostok that she’ll always remember.

Hannan was teaching English as part of a Juneau-based exchange program, and she was awoken by shouting and commotion in the hall. A 17-year-old was being assaulted by a large, drunken man. When she stepped out of her room, the man turned his attention to her.

In October 2015, Hannan shared the story at that month’s gathering of Mudrooms, Juneau’s storytelling collective.

“He was trying to kill me,” she said at the time.

She fought back, but she knew that “if he got me on the floor, I was sure I was going to be killed.”

He focused his attention on her neck.

“He didn’t break my neck, but he did manage to crack my skull,” she said.

Hannan recovered from the attack, but as she runs in this year’s general election as the Democratic candidate for House District 33, it’s something she remembers. It’s one of the reasons she ran with an anti-violence campaign in mind, and it’s one of the reasons that priority hasn’t changed during her campaign.

“I would say with the recent Supreme Court appointment and issues around domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska, that’s ever more elevated and of concern,” she said during a Friday interview with the Empire.

Alaska has the highest rates of rape and domestic violence in the nation, and while the state has embarked upon significant efforts to change those facts, “we don’t seem to be turning that direction radically,” she said.

Hannan, 57, is married to Mark Stopha. She was born in Richland, Washington, but came to Anchorage soon after her birth and graduated from West Anchorage High School. In 1982, she moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska, graduating in 1985 with a bachelor of education degree. While attending the school, she served as the student representative to the university’s Board of Regents.

After graduating, she moved to Sitka for a year, where she worked as an instructor at Mount Edgecumbe High School. She moved to Juneau in 1986 and has lived in the capital city for the past 22 years.

She was hired in 1996 by the Juneau School District and taught government, psychology, American history and swimming for 20 years before retiring. She was a student council adviser and was involved in the teachers’ union as a bargaining spokesperson.

After retiring, she briefly worked for SERRC before turning her attention to politics.

Since she started her campaign in February, she said her priorities haven’t changed. She said she’s heard plenty from voters in the district who want to see Alaska have a sustainable fiscal plan for state government, and she’s heard from people who want to see the state address public safety, particularly violence against women.

“You can’t just arrest more; we need more diversion programs, intervention programs,” she said. “You can’t just do one piece of it and think that changes everything.”

She said that simply filling police vacancies or adding additional troopers is not enough to defeat crime.

“It disrupts criminal behavior, but it doesn’t resolve it,” she said.

When talking about a fiscal plan for the state, she borrows a line from House District 34’s Democratic candidate Andi Story: “The price of oil isn’t a fiscal policy.”

Hannan supports an income tax as a means to balance the state’s erratic cashflow and reverse some budget cuts that haven’t actually saved Alaskans money.

As an example, she referred to the elimination of a state trooper position in Haines. The thought behind that cut was that the Haines Police Department could take up some of the slack.

“That’s not a cost savings. That’s a cost shifting,” she said. “To cut that service saves the state money, but it doesn’t save Alaskans money because now individuals are trying to do law enforcement for their own benefit.”

Beyond public safety, Hannan feels the state needs to spend more on education and infrastructure to provide things Alaskans are asking for.

“I think the next 50 years for Alaska require us to invest more for our citizens,” she said. “We are a wealthy state, but we may be cash-poor. We have a cashflow problem. We don’t have a wealth problem.”

Hannan said she believes in figuring out the root cause of a problem and attacking it directly, and she strongly believes that having more women in office is good for the legislative process.

Starting in March, with the appointment of Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, the Legislature has 19 women among its 60 members. If the Legislature mimicked the gender balance in Alaska, it would have 28 women.

“I think it behooves us all to have women who are advocates for women’s issues and children’s issues there,” she said.

Candidate profiles

Ahead of the Nov. 6 general election, the Empire is publishing profiles of the six local candidates who will appear on the ballot. One will run each day.

• Oct. 18: Don Etheridge

• Oct. 19: Chris Dimond

• Oct. 21: Jesse Kiehl

• Oct. 22: Jerry Nankervis

• Oct. 23: Andi Story

• Oct. 24: Sara Hannan

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

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