Looking to succeed his former boss, Jesse Kiehl mounts campaign for state Senate

Jesse Kiehl gives a speech
Jesse Kiehl gives a speech at a fundraiser for his campaign on July 19, 2018. (Photo by Jake Steinberg/KTOO)

Sen. Dennis Egan is retiring from the Alaska Legislature in January. He’s leaving open Senate District Q, which encompasses much of Southeast Alaska, including the capital city.

Egan’s longtime aide, Jesse Kiehl, is hoping to fill the vacancy left by his former boss.

Kiehl grew up in Anchorage and went to college in Washington state where he studied politics and theater. He said he got hooked on public policy while interning for former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in college. Kiehl, a Democrat, said the long-serving Republican senator always put his state before his party, and that’s something he took to heart.

Kiehl has spent the past two decades working in the Capitol, first as a staffer for former Gov. Tony Knowles, then as a legislative aide for former Sen. Kim Elton. He served as an aide for Sen. Dennis Egan until this year.

“I already know how to work with the legal drafters and know where the bathrooms are and know the route a bill takes through committee,” he said. “(I) know who to call about various issues. That is really critical.”

Kiehl has also had his hand in Juneau’s local politics. He’s been a member of the Juneau Assembly since 2011. He said his time on the Assembly has given him the ability to work with people all across the community. He cited the passage of Juneau’s equal rights ordinance, which protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing and employment, as one of his proudest accomplishments.

“I worked with a whole lot of folks, had a whole lot of meetings with both advocates and potential critics and we arrived at a comprehensive equal rights ordinance for Juneau,” he said.

Jesse Kiehl talking to supporters
Jesse Kiehl talking to supporters at a fundraiser for his campaign on July 19, 2018. (Photo by Jake Steinberg/KTOO)

He said his investment in the city’s infrastructure and transit, as well as his support of denser zoning demonstrate his long-term vision.

“One of the most valuable things we can do as elected leaders as we work on those is to keep the long-term vision in mind,” he said.

Kiehl wants to bring that same vision to the Senate, and he said that will mean hard work and tough decisions. Chief among them is finding a sustainable base for the state’s economy. He thinks Alaskans should vote on a constitutional amendment that sets how much the state draws from the permanent fund’s earnings each year for public services and dividends.

He also supports an income tax.

“When you put those things together, then we’ve got a stable base for the state of Alaska for the very long term,” he said.

Kiehl said he’ll fight to keep the capital in Juneau by making the government more accessible to the rest of the state. In his view, that means investing in reliable ferry service, better air transportation and improving digital access to the state government. He said the road is not a priority for him.

“I know there are folks who believe there’s a single infrastructure project that will change things,” he said. “But even if it happened tomorrow, folks would still need a passport to get to the capital city through Canada.”

State Senate candidate Jesse Kiehl
State Senate candidate Jesse Kiehl poses for a photo at KTOO on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Jake Steinberg/KTOO)

Kiehl has a lot he’d like to do. He said his years of experience at the Capitol will make him a more effective legislator.

His former boss, Sen. Egan, agreed. Though he’s not endorsing any candidates until after the Aug. 21 primary, he said he’d be delighted if Kiehl succeeds him.

“Jesse probably knows the ins and outs of the Legislature better than anyone that I know of,” he said. “He knows how the Legislature works and it sometimes gets very difficult, very complicated. But, Jesse understands.”

Kiehl’s political experience has lent itself to his campaign. He’s running unopposed in the Democratic primary and he’s raised nearly double his opponent Don Etheridge, who’s running as an independent. The general election is Nov. 6.

KTOO is publishing profiles of all the statehouse candidates for House District 33 and 34 and Senate District Q over the next few weeks. You’ll also find the profiles at KTOO.org/elections.

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