Peggy Wilson ending long legislative career

Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson addresses the Southeast Conference in 2011. She's retiring after seven legislative terms. (CoastAlaska News)

Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson addresses the Southeast Conference in 2011. She’s retiring after seven legislative terms. (CoastAlaska News)

Southeast Alaska’s longest-serving lawmaker is retiring. Peggy Wilson says she will not seek re-election to her Wrangell-based House district.

She’s stepping down for two reasons.

“My mom hasn’t been well. And I just worried about her so much. And because of session I couldn’t go,” she says. “And since December, I’ve had four great-grandbabies being born and there’s another one on the way. I missed it with my grandchildren and now my grandchildren are having children. I feel like it’s given me a second chance.”

Wilson says her own health is fine. But at 68, the long days and late nights are taking their toll.

“I don’t want to be falling asleep in committees. And maybe I need to let somebody younger do this,” she says.

Wilson’s been in Alaska’s House of Representatives for 14 years. She began as the Wrangell-Petersburg-Sitka representative. Then reapportionment dropped all but Wrangell and added Ketchikan, Saxman, Hyder and Prince of Wales Island.

She originally planned to run for re-election this year. But she knew it would be tough.

“Ketchikan really is so used to having their own person that they really want somebody from Ketchikan. But they wanted somebody from Ketchikan last time and I made it,” she says.

Wilson’s first big issue was education. And she’s continued to push for funding and other improvements.

“It was my legislation that got the cost differential into place. And I feel real good about that,” she says.

But she’s very concerned about the Legislature and administration’s recent directions. She says focusing on charter, church and home schools will hurt existing public schools.

“We do need to make changes in education. But we can’t make them and leave people out. We’ve got to make the changes so that it can ultimately reach everyone and not just a select few,” she says.

One of Wilson’s biggest disappointments was the failure of a roads, ferries, harbors, airports and highways infrastructure fund.

The retiring Wrangell lawmaker authored bills for the past six years. One measure made it through the House and to the Senate Finance Committee this year. But it remained there when the final gavel fell.

She hopes to find someone to carry the ball.

“I definitely am going to look for people who will continue, because I firmly believe for the health of Alaska overall, our roads need fixing. We need to have more roads. And it’s not going to happen with the current status quo,” she says.

Wilson continues on the job until her successor is sworn in early next year.

That’ll cap a 19-year legislative career – 14 in Alaska and five in her previous home of North Carolina.

“I’m will miss it. There’s a little bit of emptiness in my heart already and I can feel it. You just can’t walk away and forget it. It’s impossible,” she says.

Hear an interview from her last campaign.

At least two people are running for Wilson’s House seat.

The most recent to announce is Ketchikan Visitors Bureau CEO Patti Mackey, a Republican who ran two years ago. Another is Ketchikan teacher Dan Ortiz, an independent. Others are expected.

Wilson, a retired nurse, says she’ll endorse whoever wins the August GOP primary. Wilson won her first Alaska election in 2000, making her the first woman to serve in two states’ legislatures.

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