Republicans have won the Mendenhall Valley House seat in all but three elections during the past 30 years. Andi Story hopes to crack through that shell with a different formula. She’s offering voters a record of dedicated public service accompanied by a kind of selfless humility rarely seen in politics.
Story entered the race just days before the filing deadline. More often than not, that’s been a sign Democrats are putting up a party standard bearer expecting to take an electoral beating. It’s why since 1988, the incumbent Republican ran unopposed in five of nine elections.
Name recognition is just one of the hurdles for most political newcomers. The other is experience. Story is the first Democrat without those worries since Caren Robinson ran and won an open seat in 1994.
Serving 15 years on Juneau’s school board makes Story a familiar face across the capital city. And it’s given her a solid understanding of the challenges facing public education. She’s spent countless hours sharing her insights with legislators and Assembly members, and by testifying at public hearings. That service beyond the call of duty earned her more votes than any other school board candidate every time she ran for reelection.
But to many Juneauites, it’s not that record which makes her stand out.
“Andi Story humbles me,” Laury Scandling says. “She truly lives the ‘Sunday school’ values she teaches as a youth educator” at Northern Light United Church. “She conducts herself with a kindness and respect for others that is incredibly rare.”
The two met when Story volunteered in a class that Scandling taught. It was structured for students struggling with the mainstream curriculum model. “Not that her own kid was in there,” Scandling explained. “She just cared.”
A few years later, they flipped roles when Scandling volunteered to work on Story’s first campaign for a seat on the school board. Their professional association continued for several years after she won that race.
Story’s “commitment to understanding and resolving thorny issues is intense and focused,” Scandling observed while principal of Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School and later as the assistant school superintendent. “She spends a lot of time doing deep homework, reading and then talking to people who are experts in an area.”
That’s how Story introduced herself at a fundraiser I attended this past summer. Before she mentioned any accomplishments, she explained her confidence is not a matter of having the answers to any particular problem. It’s how she learned to find them by engaging people with the right background and expertise.
To me, that’s what makes her rare among politicians. She’s more comfortable letting voters know she doesn’t have the answers than exaggerating her knowledge. And she’s too sincere to hide behind the art of obfuscation.
I see Story’s approach as a strength, not a weakness. As a sign that she’s confidently intelligent, not ignorant or ill-informed.
The ultimate test for her won’t come from the election. It’ll be in office that the real problem solving begins. And I believe Story has developed an uncanny ability to listen and learn from people with viewpoints she’s never considered. She’ll go to work prepared for constructive dialogue with legislators on the other side of the partisan aisle, as well as with constituents with differing opinions.
Believing she’s capable of that in these unnecessarily divisive times is aided by one particular endorsement she’s earned. Bill Hudson might not agree with Story’s philosophies about government and education. But the seven-term former Republican representative says he knows “what it takes to represent our Capital City and Andi is my choice for the job.”
Hudson’s crossing party lines in this election reminded me of how former House Minority leader Beth Kerttula took off her Democrat hat to back Gov. Bill Walker over former Sen. Mark Begich. Walker has since suspended his campaign and thrown his support to Begich. But the point is, Hudson and Kerttula are both old-school politicians who served when cooperation and compromise were the rule, not the exception.
And that kind of “civility, respect and dialogue amongst all,” Story says, is “the key to Alaska moving forward.” That’s not just polite campaign rhetoric. Because as Scandling knows, Story is “the real deal in terms of living those values.”
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.