Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka answers a question during a town hall Friday evening at Juneau Christian Center. About 40 people showed up for the event, following a luncheon and door-to-door knocking in the Mendenhall Valley by Tshibaka during the afternoon. She said she plans to continue her local door-to-door campaign Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka answers a question during a town hall Friday evening at Juneau Christian Center. About 40 people showed up for the event, following a luncheon and door-to-door knocking in the Mendenhall Valley by Tshibaka during the afternoon. She said she plans to continue her local door-to-door campaign Saturday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tshibaka goes to town on Friday night

Republican U.S. Senate challenger attacks Biden, Murkowski, other familiar foes in Juneau visit

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka spent a Friday night town hall in Juneau enthusiastically defending “leading” a strike of the Alaska Marine Highway System and being cited for a commercial fishing violation that’s been highlighted in an opponent’s campaign ad, saying both are examples of unscrupulous bureaucracy she’s spend decades fighting against.

The two-hour gathering at Juneau Christian Center attracted about 40 people, nearly all of whom appeared to be supporters. Some attendees greeting the arriving candidate noted the unusually nice mid-September weather might be a factor in the attendance, which Tshibaka — who spent Friday afternoon campaigning door-to-door in the Mendenhall Valley — acknowledged at the onset of her brief opening remarks.

A town hall at Juneau Christian Center for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka attracted about 40 people during a sunny Friday evening. Church attendees were told about the event a week ago, but media notices were emailed about 10 hours beforehand. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A town hall at Juneau Christian Center for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka attracted about 40 people during a sunny Friday evening. Church attendees were told about the event a week ago, but media notices were emailed about 10 hours beforehand. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“Thank you all for spending a sunny — I want to acknowledge that — evening with me,” she said.

Her Juneau visit coincided with the release of a new survey showing her in a 50-50 tie with incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski when all rounds of the new ranked choice voting system are tallied. The survey was conducted by a company that was the official campaign pollster for Donald Trump, who endorsed Tshibaka at a rally in Anchorage this summer, but Tshibaka highlighted it at the beginning and end of the event as a call to action.

“This is the closest senate race and the least expensive senate race in the entire nation, and you folks can make a big difference,” she said.

Tshibaka repeated many of her familiar tales about her experience in Alaska, especially as Department of Administration commissioner for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and her motivation for running against Murkowski due to the incumbent’s support for nominees and some policies advocated by President Joe Biden. In particular, the challenger singled out the incumbent’s vote to confirm Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, calling her a radical environmentalist.

“We do not want to become a national park by the end of this decade,” Tshibaka said.

She is making maximizing resource development a cornerstone issue of her campaign, arguing among other things one way to address climate change concerns without costly regulations is to “do environmental production in places where it’s cleaner and cheaper like Alaska.” She also is emphasizing her bureaucratic experience as a skill she can use to overcome roadblocks the Biden administration and others are imposing.

Patrick Phillips, right, a dock officer who has been a Juneau resident for 26 years, chats with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka before the start of a meet-and-greet at Juneau Christian Center on Friday. He said he is voting for Tshibaka largely based on her stance on national issues. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Patrick Phillips, right, a dock officer who has been a Juneau resident for 26 years, chats with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka before the start of a meet-and-greet at Juneau Christian Center on Friday. He said he is voting for Tshibaka largely based on her stance on national issues. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Southeast Alaska issues were discussed at length by Tshibaka, Murkowski and Democratic challenger Patricia Chesbro at a candidate forum earlier this week in Ketchikan. The ferry system — which suffered major cuts under Dunleavy — was among the major issues raised and Tshibaka defiantly said her actions contributing to the 2019 strike were because union wage demands were so high they’d force the shutdown of the system for months every year.

“While their technical pay might be really high, they’re take-home pay will be way less,” she said.

Tshibaka also used the strike to invoke numerous quips and insults targeting Biden and other political foes.

“Joe Biden was tweeting against me the whole time, back when he could tweet,” she said to scattered laughter in the room. (A search of Biden’s pre-presidential Twitter for “Alaska” returns four tweets including one related to the AMHS strike and another referencing an administrative order requiring unionized employees to “opt in” to their union. Searching Tshibaka’s name returns no results. Dunleavy’s name also does not return results. )

Numerous questions were asked in person and via an app that displayed them on overhead screens. Topics included national issues such as gun rights, medical mandates, election fraud, immigration, plus state-oriented issues such as subsistence rights and the balance between Alaska’s three branches of government.

One person asked Tshibaka about accusations of fishing violations, which she called politically motivated targeting by people opposing her candidacy and career. She said she was “completely exonerated” in a recreational permit complaint and a commercial fishing violation was an instance of her being the only person ticketed for commonly committed actions.

“You think this is really the first time government investigators have come against me?” she said. “I’ve been after them for 20 years. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the room who’s felt that way.”

A specific inquiry about Tshibaka’s tenure as administration commissioner was made by David Ignell, who said he contacted her two years ago on behalf of a Hoonah resident convicted of sexual assault of a minor a decade after being arrested. Ignell said he believes the person is innocent and his concern about Tshibaka is that he never received a response to his inquires.

“We all make mistakes,” he said. “I’m not here to call you out, but can I trust you as a voter that you’re going to hold government accountable.”

Tshibaka said she remembers the case, looked into it and assigned it to a department deputy in charge of such cases, but couldn’t recall or discuss any specific outcomes.

“I’ll raise it again with them because you brought it up since I didn’t know it was continuing,” she said.

Among her supporters attending the event was Patrick Phillips, a dock officer who has been a Juneau resident for 26 years. In an interview before the event he said he had just signed up as a volunteer that evening.

“I’m supporting Kelly because of a whole lot of national issues — gun control, education, voter integrity,” he said, naming several others as well.

Tshibaka, after chatting with Phillips, said in a brief interview she estimates she knocked on 50 doors Friday afternoon. Near the end of the event she invited attendees to join her for more of the same on Saturday.

“If you want to go door-knocking tomorrow I will be out door knocking,” she said. “We will not send you to frivolous doors. We know exactly who needs to be talked to. Data is not a frivolous thing.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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