Nominees for vacant House seat meet with Walker, describe qualifications

State seal podium 2016 06 19
The seal of the state of Alaska in the governor’s temporary offices in Juneau in June 2016. Gov. Bill Walker met Monday with the three nominees for the vacant District 40 House seat. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker met Monday with the three nominees for the now vacant District 40 seat for the Alaska House. The district covers the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs and is open because former Rep. Dean Westlake resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Walker may make a decision soon.

Two of the nominees, Sandy Shroyer-Beaver and Eugene Smith, have years of experience on Kotzebue’s city council. The other, Leanna Mack of Utqiagvik, said her community involvement makes up for her relative lack of political experience.

Shroyer-Beaver said her more than 30 years in politics have prepared her. She has served on city council and the school board and worked with regional tribal organization Maniilaq Association.

“I’m just a normal person,” she said. “I’m from Kotzebue. I wasn’t born there, but I was raised there. I lived there my whole life. I’m a mom. I have five children. I have four grandchildren. I work with kids. I’ve loved that for years. I worked for Maniilaq in the foster care program. Everybody knows me in our region.”

Shroyer-Beaver said she’d like to increase public safety in rural Alaska, including in North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs. She also said she’d focus on education and protecting Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

“We have people who are counting on these funds they get every year because we have a shortage of employment opportunities,” she said.

Both Shroyer-Beaver and Smith are on Kotzebue’s city council.

Eugene Smith also has decades of experience in the city’s politics and has served as the mayor and with Maniilaq Association.

“Well, I’ve been on city council for 21 years straight and took a hiatus and now I’m back on the council,” he said. “I’ve also got tons of management experience, being the CIO (chief information officer) for the health corporation for many years, so I do understand budgeting.”

Smith said he would listen to constituents to determine his priorities. He said he would work closely with the mostly Democratic House majority on a plan to close the multibillion dollar state budget deficit.

“It makes a lot of sense to look at all the means possible to trying to resolve the state’s situation,” he said. “I just believe by working together, you know, in a nonpartisan way, I think that we can solve this problem.”

Leanna Mack is the only nominee who hasn’t served in political office. She’s the deputy adviser to North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower, focused on regulations that affect borough residents.

Mack doesn’t feel that drawing from permanent fund earnings will solve the state’s budget problem.

“I think that’s just a short-term solution and a long-term solution needs to be looked at, as well as all the other industries that are in Alaska and that are starting to ramp up,” she said.

Mack also has worked as a volunteer in the community. She works with local cheerleaders. And she’s become heavily involved in suicide prevention since the death of her brother’s best friend.

“The last several years, we’ve had the largest team during the community walks and we’ve also been the top fundraisers for the community walks,” she said. “And I think it’s another way for all of us to get together and catch up with one another, as well as continue to celebrate our friend’s life and the time we were able to spend with him.”

The district Democratic Party nominated the three candidates from a group of eight applicants. Walker has nine days to fill the vacancy. Kiana Democrat Westlake resigned after he was accused of inappropriate behavior with female aides and women outside of the Legislature.

Walker also must fill the vacancy caused by Sen. Mike Dunleavy’s resignation. Dunleavy resigned to focus on running for governor.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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