Chugiak-Eagle River voters have four candidates to select from in choosing a replacement to represent the local area to the Anchorage Assembly as sitting Assemblyman Bill Starr for District 2, Seat C terms out in 2017. Voting takes place on April 4.
The last day of filing on Feb. 10 included the addition of two names: Fred Dyson and Patrick Donnelly.
The first is a well-known former statesman almost considered a “political grandfather” to the current crop of active politicos. The second is an individual with little name recognition to the man on the street but one with a significant amount of experience in construction, hydraulics, and mechanical work.
A third candidate – Stephany Jeffers of Chugiak, former Miss Alaska 2008 – also filed on Feb.10 but removed her candidacy before the Feb. 14 deadline to withdraw.
John Brassell, a treasurer with the local Republican Party and the vice president of benefits, account executive for Parker, Smith, and Feek in Anchorage, led the filing back on Jan. 27.He is strongly backed by a couple of big names in state Republican politics: former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-District 14. In previous interviews with the ECHO News, Brassell has indicated his candidacy is based on putting the needs of first responders and public safety at the top of his to-do list when elected.
The second candidate to file was Chugiak’s Gretchen Wehmhoff, a longtime area resident and former longtime Chugiak High School teacher. Wehmhoff filed on Jan. 30 and has yet to garner official endorsements from any top politicos but instead is running a grassroots campaign with an emphasis on improving public transportation. In the 2016 general election, Wehmhoff ran for the District 14 seat in the state House. Rep. Cathy Tilton won that race.
On Feb. 10, Dyson of Eagle River added his name to the list of candidates by filing his paperwork with the municipal division of elections. Dyson’s record of public service is lengthy: he served in the Alaska House from 1996 to 2002 and in the Alaska Senate from 2003 to 2014. He mentored current Sen. Anna MacKinnon when she served as a state representative and continues to provide MacKinnon with advice.
Amy Demboski, the area’s other current Anchorage Assembly representative, has given her enthusiastic endorsement to Dyson. She’s posted side-by-side photos of herself and Dyson on her Facebook account labeling them: “Dyson-Demboski: The Powerhouse Team for Chugiak-Eagle River.”
Her Facebook posts also states, “Bill Starr is termed out, and his departure leaves a huge void of experience and knowledge. Because I know the fights that are on the horizon, as your other Assembly member, I know that I need the type of knowledge, wisdom, and experience that only one person in this race has. Senator Dyson didn’t have to answer this call to service, but he knows what is at stake, and he is willing to do what he has always done, fight for the best interests of the people of Chugiak-Eagle River. It is my view that we need someone who is battle tested, has an unwavering commitment to, and knowledge of, Chugiak-Eagle River, and who can hit the ground running. I believe that person is Fred Dyson. I would be honored to serve alongside him as our next Assembly member from Chugiak-Eagle River.”
Dyson’s candidacy for Assembly is not without criticism. It is coming from a politico that Demboski publicly supported in the 2016 general election: Reinbold.
Currently in Juneau for the legislative session, Reinbold told the ECHO News, “We already have a Republican in the Assembly race. It’s a typical, yet unfortunate, move when the GOP establishment pits moderate Republicans against conservative Republicans. In statewide races last year we lost Republican seats and control of the state House implementing this failed strategy. Democrats may then get an edge and punish people with taxes by maintaining big costly government.”
Dyson sharply criticized Reinbold in Aug. 2016 during the Republican primary contest between Reinbold, the incumbent, and Crystal Kennedy, the challenger, in writing a letter to the editor for The Chugiak-Eagle River Star indicating Dyson believed it was time for Reinbold to take a break from legislative work. Dyson stated toward the end of his letter, “I hope and pray that Lora can use a well-deserved break as an opportunity to gain some new maturity and wisdom in her life journey.”
Political Unknown With Construction Skills
The fourth candidate for voter selection on April 4 is Donnelly of Eagle River. This is his first race for political office. He also filed on Feb. 10. An online resume with his name and an Eagle River address matching that used for his candidacy filing indicates Donnelley has worked for the Anchorage-based Arctic Slope Regional Corporation in Prudhoe Bay as well as several Anchorage-based companies providing materials for various projects including Port of Anchorage and Target store work in 2007. Donnelley also worked as a cabling and lighting specialist on the set of the film “Into the Wild” which documented the journey of Christopher McCandless to separate from conventional society and live in an abandoned bus north of the Denali National Park and Preserve where he eventually died.
Jeffers, who won the 2008 crown after informing the panel of judges – including former First Dude Todd Palin – during a live onstage interview that she doesn’t like salmon told the ECHO News she initially started her paperwork when Brassell was the only candidate.
After speaking with Wehmhoff and others in the local Democratic Party, Jeffers said she decided voters had good options to select from without her name on the ballot this year.
Jeffers, the owner of Cirque Boreal providing aerial acrobatics instruction at the Alaska Moving Arts Center, said she isn’t ruling out a run for Assembly in the future.
“I may run in the future but I would like to do so with significantly more preparation,” Jeffers said.
Editor’s Note: Gretchen Wehmhoff is a member of the ECHO News team. She continues to write for our readership and is prohibited from writing subjects that directly pertain to the Anchorage Assembly. Should Wehmhoff be elected, she will continue in her position as time permits writing feature articles only.