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Alaska governor signs bill to formally recognize federally recognized American Indian tribes

On July 28, 2022, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) signed House Bill 123 (HB 123) into law, which would formally recognize 229 federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska. The bill was approved by the state legislature on May 17, 2022, before going to the governor’s desk.

“House Bill 123 codifies in law what Alaskans have long recognized: the important role that Native Tribes play in our past, present, and future,” said Gov. Dunleavy in a statement.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-38), who sponsored the bill, called this action long overdue. “While the inherent sovereignty of Alaska Tribes has been consistently affirmed in Federal policy, in rulings by the Supreme Court, and by Executive Order in 2018, the signing of House Bill 123 provides formal recognition in statute for the first time in our State’s history,” she said.

HB 123 adds a section to Alaska state statute that recognizes federally recognized tribes. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, a federally recognized tribe is “an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Initially, the move for the state to recognize American Indian tribes in Alaska came from a ballot initiative that was intended to be placed on the 2022 ballot. The initiative was filed by Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake, Chaa yaa eesh Richard Peterson, and La quen náay Liz on August 11, 2021. The Alaskans for Better Government PAC was registered in support of the measure. 

“With a respectful partnership we’ll have more ways to enhance the lives of Alaskans by streamlining services; partnering to amplify federal and state funding for deep, sustainable, and long-term impact; and tapping in to the 10,000 plus years of Indigenous brilliance, diversity, and knowledge of our Native homelands that so many now call home,” the Alaskans for Better Government campaign said, “The basis of any good relationship is respect, and too often when sovereign governments cannot work together our Tribal peoples disproportionately bear the price of injustice, diminishing equity, liberty, and freedoms for all.”

In Alaska, the initiative process for state statutes is indirect. This means that rather than a campaign submitting signatures to put the initiative directly on the ballot the initiative first goes to the state legislature. The state legislature then has a chance to approve or reject the measure. If the state legislature rejects the measure, the measure goes to the ballot for voters to decide. If the state legislature approves the measure, it goes to the governor’s desk for approval.

The Alaskans for Better Government campaign submitted 56,200 signatures on January 13, 2022. Of that total, 47,199 signatures were found to be valid on March 3, 2022. The number of required signatures to send the initiative to the state legislature was 36,140.

In 2021, several legislators introduced House Bill 123, which Alaskans for Better Government described as “functionally identical and… written to serve the same purpose” as the ballot initiative. Instead of considering the initiative, the state legislature approved HB 123 in May.

Since the measure was passed by the state legislature, it will not appear on the ballot but instead will go into effect immediately.

Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka called this formal recognition a ‘historic step’. 

“The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions, and maintain freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for each other,” she said. “We have strengthened our tribal governments and have initiated multiple efforts to continue our path to self-determination and self-governance. The formal recognition through this legislation is an historic step for us to have a successful relationship with the state.”

Additional reading:

Alaska 2022 ballot measures



Nineteen candidates are running in the top-four primary for United States Senate in Alaska on August 16, 2022

Nineteen candidates are running in the top-four primary for United States Senate in Alaska on August 16, 2022. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is running for re-election.

This is the first use of the top-four primary system for a U.S. Senate seat in Alaska since voters approved its use in November 2020. All candidates run in a single primary regardless of party affiliation. The four candidates to receive the most votes advance to the general election, where the winner is decided using ranked-choice voting. 

The 19 candidates include eight Republicans, three Democrats, one Libertarian, five independents, and two Alaskan Independence Party candidates.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote that it’s likely that at least two Republican candidates and a Democratic one will advance to the general election following the primary. Four total candidates will advance.

As of July 2022, the candidates who reported raising funds for the election or had been named in public polling were:

  1. Murkowski, who was endorsed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), fellow Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), and Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Kyrsten Sinema (D);
  2. Kelly Tshibaka (R), a former commissioner at the Alaska Department of Administration who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump (R) and the Alaska Republican Party;
  3. Patricia Chesbro (D), an educator from Palmer;
  4. Huhnkie Lee (I), a computer programmer and attorney;
  5. Shoshana Gungurstein (I), a businesswoman;
  6. Sean Thorne (L), a U.S. Army veteran;
  7. and Dustin Darden (Alaskan Independence Party), a maintenance worker and 2018 candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives.

Three election forecasters rate the general election Solid or Safe Republican.

Murkowski’s father, Frank Murkowski (R), held the Senate seat from 1980 to 2002, when he resigned to become governor of Alaska. After taking office, the elder Murkowski appointed his daughter to the U.S. Senate seat. In 2010, after losing the Republican nomination, Lisa Murkowski successfully ran for re-election as a write-in candidate. She is one of two U.S. Senators, alongside South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond in 1954, to have been elected as a write-in candidate.



Eleven candidates running in top-four primary for Governor of Alaska on Aug. 16

Eleven candidates are running in a top-four primary for governor of Alaska on August 16, 2022. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) is running for re-election. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) is not running for re-election. In Alaska, candidates for both positions run on a joint ticket.

This is the first use of the top-four primary system for governor of Alaska since voters approved its use in November 2020. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run in a single primary. The four candidates to receive the most votes will advance to the general election. The four-candidate general election will use ranked-choice voting.

The eleven candidates include six Republicans, one Democrat, one Libertarian, and three independents. Among them are:

  • Dunleavy, who was first elected in 2018;
  • Les Gara (D), a former state legislator;
  • Charlie Pierce (R), who was co-endorsed with Dunleavy by the Republican Party of Alaska; 
  • and former Gov. Bill Walker (I), who served from 2014 to 2018. 

Also running in the primary are Jim Cottrell (R), David Haeg (R), John Howe (Alaskan Independence), Christopher Kurka (R), William Nemec II (I), William Toien (L), and Bruce Walden (R).

Three race forecasting outlets rate the general election as Likely or Solid Republican. In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump (R) received 52.8% of the vote in Alaska, while Joe Biden (D) received 42.8%. 

According to the Associated Press, no Alaska governor has won re-election since Tony Knowles (D) in 1998. Sean Parnell (R), who became governor in 2009 following the resignation of Sarah Palin (R), won a full term in 2010 but lost his re-election bid in 2014.



Alaska’s U.S. House top-four primary is on Aug. 16

A top-four primary will take place on Aug.16, 2022, in Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District to determine which four candidates will run in the district’s general election on Nov. 8, 2022.

All candidates will appear on the same ballot with their affiliations listed next to their names. The general election will use ranked-choice voting.

Former Rep. Don Young (R) died in March 2022. The regularly scheduled election is one of two elections, alongside a special election, for Alaska’s at-large House district in 2022.

Twenty-two candidates are on the regular primary ballot: nine undeclared or nonpartisan candidates, nine Republicans, one Democrat, and three third-party candidates.

Fifteen of the candidates also ran in the special primary election to fill the remainder of Young’s term. Nicholas Begich III (R), Sarah Palin (R), and Mary Peltola (D) advanced from the June 11 special primary. Al Gross (I) also advanced but withdrew from the race. Begich, Palin, and Peltola are running in both the special general election and the regular primary election on Aug. 16. Tara Sweeney (R) placed 5th in the special primary and is also running in the regular primary.

Young was first elected to the U.S. House in 1973.

Additional reading:

United States House of Representatives special election in Alaska, 2022



Previewing Alaska’s RCV special general election for U.S. House

A special election to fill the seat representing Alaska’s at-large district in the U.S. House will be held on Aug. 16. Sarah Palin (R), Nicholas Begich III (R), and Mary Peltola (D) are running. Al Gross (I) also advanced from the June 11 top-four primary, but he withdrew from the race on June 20. In the special primary, Palin received 27% of the vote, Begich 19%, Gross 13%, and Peltola 10%.

Former Rep. Don Young (R) died in March.

Begich founded a technology development company and co-founded a company that invests in startups. He co-chaired the Alaska Republican Party Finance Committee and Young’s 2020 re-election campaign. Begich entered the regular U.S. House primary election before Young’s death. Begich is campaigning on his business background, saying he can “make the business case for Alaska effectively down in D.C.”

Palin served as governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009 and was John McCain’s (R) vice presidential running mate in 2008. Palin is campaigning on her record as governor, which she says includes taking “meaningful steps toward energy independence, passing bipartisan ethics reform, and facilitating the biggest private sector infrastructure project in U.S. history.” Palin said after Young’s death, “As I’ve watched the far left destroy the country, I knew I had to step up and join the fight.”

Peltola served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009 and is interim executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Peltola calls herself a “[p]roven legislative leader and coalition builder.” She emphasizes her background in fishing and prioritization of marine resource management as a key campaign issue. Peltola also highlights that she is an Alaska Native woman.

The Alaska Republican Party endorsed Begich. Former President Donald Trump (R) backed Palin. Five primary candidates endorsed Peltola: independents Gross* and Santa Claus and Democrats Christopher Constant, Mike Milligan, and Emil Notti.

All 48 primary candidates ran on the same ballot. The 16 Republican primary candidates received 58% of the vote combined. The 22 candidates running as nonpartisans or undeclared received 24%. Six Democratic candidates received 17%. The remaining 1% of voters chose a third-party candidate. Gross, the nonpartisan candidate with the most votes, ran for U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2020.

The special primary was the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history. The special general election will use ranked-choice voting.

*Gross also endorsed Tara Sweeney (R), but the state supreme court ruled she could not advance to the general election.

Additional reading:

United States House of Representatives special election in Alaska, 2022 (June 11 top-four primary)

Alaska Ballot Measure 2, Top-Four Ranked-Choice Voting and Campaign Finance Laws Initiative (2020)



Three candidates advance from Alaska’s special top-four U.S. House primary

A top-four special primary was held for Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District on June 11, 2022. Three candidates—Sarah Palin (R), Nicholas Begich III (R), and Mary Peltola (D)—advanced to the August 16 special general election.

Al Gross (I), the third-place finisher in the special primary, ended his campaign on June 20. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney (R) could not advance to the special general election amid Gross’ withdrawal.

Forty-eight candidates ran in the June 11 primary—the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history. All candidates appeared on the same ballot with their affiliations listed next to their names. The general election will use ranked-choice voting.

Former incumbent Rep. Don Young (R) died in March. Young was first elected as Alaska’s U.S. representative in 1973, when he defeated Emil Notti (D) in a special election. Notti ran in the 2022 special primary election. Young also ran for the House in 1972, when Nick Begich Sr. (D) defeated him. Begich Sr. is Begich III’s grandfather.

The winner of the August 16 special general election will serve until the end of the term Young was last elected to—January 3, 2023. The special election is one of two elections, alongside the regularly scheduled election, for Alaska’s at-large House district in 2022. Twenty-four candidates filed to run in both the regular and special elections. The regular top-four primary election will take place August 16.



Alaska completes state legislative redistricting

Alaska completed its state legislative redistricting on May 24 when the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a new map of state Senate districts at the direction of the Alaska Supreme Court. The state had initially enacted legislative district boundaries on Nov. 10, 2021, following a 3-2 vote by the redistricting board. The three Republican-appointed board members voted in favor of the map and the two nonpartisan board members voted against it.

The Alaska Supreme Court had ruled on March 25 that one state House and one state Senate district did not comply with the state constitution and required the redistricting board to redraw the districts. The Alaska Redistricting Board adopted new legislative district boundaries to comply with the state supreme court’s ruling on April 13. A group of plaintiffs challenged the mapping of state House to state Senate districts and on May 16, the Third District of Alaska’s Superior Court ruled that the April 13 map was unconstitutional.

The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the superior court’s decision on May 24. In its ruling, the state supreme court wrote, “We AFFIRM the superior court’s determination that the Board again engaged in unconstitutional political gerrymandering to increase the one group’s voting power at the expense of others.” The court’s ruling also affirmed “the superior court’s order that the Board adopt the Option 2 proclamation plan as an interim plan for the 2022 elections.”

As of May 25, 48 states have adopted legislative district maps for both chambers. The Ohio Supreme Court overturned that state’s previously enacted maps and Montana has not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 census.

Nationwide, legislative redistricting has been completed for 1,890 of 1,973 state Senate seats (95.8%) and 5,214 of 5,413 state House seats (96.3%).

Additional reading:



The first-ever top-four congressional primary is on June 11 in Alaska

A special election for Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District in the U.S. House will take place in 2022. Former incumbent Rep. Don Young (R) died on March 18, 2022.

top-four special primary is on June 11, 2022. This is the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history. All candidates will appear on the same ballot with their affiliations listed next to their names. The four candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election, which will use ranked-choice voting.

Forty-eight candidates filed by the April 1, 2022, deadline. The special primary election ballot comprises:

  • 22 candidates running as nonpartisan or with undeclared affiliation
  • 16 Republicans
  • 6 Democrats
  • 2 Libertarians
  • 1 American Independent Party member
  • 1 Alaskan Independence Party member

The candidates who have received the most media attention and been included in public opinion polls are Nicholas Begich III (R), North Pole City Councilmember Santa Claus (I), former state Sen. John Coghill (R), Anchorage Assemblymember Christopher Constant (D), 2020 U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross (I), Jeff Lowenfels (I), former governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R), former state Rep. Mary Peltola (D), state Sen. Josh Revak (R), former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tara Sweeney (R), and state Rep. Adam Wool (D). Revak and Sweeney were co-chairs of Young’s 2022 re-election campaign.

Young was first elected as Alaska’s U.S. representative in 1973, when he defeated Emil Notti (D) in a special election. Notti is running in the 2022 special primary election. Young also ran for the House in 1972, when Nick Begich Sr. (D) defeated him. Begich Sr. is Begich III’s grandfather.

The special general election will be held Aug. 16, 2022. The winner of that election will serve until the end of the term Young was last elected to—Jan. 3, 2023. The special election is one of two elections, alongside the regularly scheduled election, for Alaska’s at-large House district in 2022. As of May 20, 18 candidates had filed to run in both the regular and special elections, including all those named above except Claus. The filing deadline for the regular election is June 1.

Here is a timeline for each primary and general election in 2022:

June 11, 2022:

Aug. 16, 2022:

Nov. 8, 2022:

As of May 26, 2022, 14 special elections have been called during the 117th Congress. From the 113th Congress to the 116th Congress, 50 special elections were held.



Signatures submitted for Alaska initiative providing formal state recognition of federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska

On Jan. 13, 2022, Alaskans for Better Government submitted about 56,200 signatures for the ballot initiative. The ballot initiative would provide for formal state recognition of federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska.

Alaska has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equal to 7% of the vote in the last general election must be collected in each of three-fourths of the 40 Alaska House of Representatives districts. The campaign reported that signatures were collected from each of the 40 legislative districts. To qualify for the ballot, 36,140 of the signatures must be valid. Signatures needed to be submitted before the Alaska State Legislature convenes on Jan. 18, 2022. If the lieutenant governor certifies enough signatures as valid, the legislature can approve the indirect initiative or equivalent legislation, keeping the measure off the ballot. If the legislature does not enact the initiative, it will appear on the November 2022 ballot.

Alaskans for Better Government said, “This would create a long overdue permanent government-to-government relationship between the State and our Alaska Native Tribes. The math is quite simple: 1 + 1 = 2. With a respectful partnership we’ll have more ways to enhance the lives of Alaskans by streamlining services; partnering to amplify federal and state funding for deep, sustainable, and long-term impact; and tapping in to the 10,000 plus years of Indigenous brilliance, diversity, and knowledge of our Native homelands that so many now call home. The basis of any good relationship is respect, and too often when sovereign governments cannot work together our Tribal peoples disproportionately bear the price of injustice, diminishing equity, liberty, and freedoms for all.”

According to campaign finance reports covering information through Jan. 7, 2022, the Alaskans for Better Government campaign had raised $622,092 and has spent $485,759. The top donors were the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($500,000) and Tides Advocacy ($100,000).

Attorney General Treg Taylor (R) issued a review of the ballot initiative, stating that “[i]t is not clear whether the state recognition… would have any legal effect on the relationship between tribes and the State.” Taylor also noted that Legislative Legal Services analyzed a similar bill, concluding that “the bill would not have any legal effect, because the United States and Alaska Supreme Courts have already held that federally recognized tribes are sovereign entities.”[3] Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said, “As we try to build communities, build a better Alaska, it’s about relationships. And so the fact that the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize us currently is kind of a barrier in the building blocks, right? So that’s what it really comes down to.”

From 2000 to 2020, 45 statewide measures have been on the ballot in Alaska. Of the 45 measures, 22 were approved (48.89%) and 23 were defeated (51.11%).



Alaska adopts final state legislative map

On Nov. 10, 2021, the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a new legislative map outlining the state’s 20 Senate districts and 40 House districts as part of the 2020 redistricting cycle. While the new map has been enacted, there will now be a 30-day period during which interested parties may file legal challenges against the new map.

The board’s three Republican-appointed members—John Binkley, Bethany Marcum, and Budd Simpson— voted in favor of the final map while the two nonpartisan members—Melanie Bahnke and Nicole Borromeo—voted against it.

The Midnight Sun’s Matt Buxton wrote that, during the Nov. 10 meeting, Bahnke and Borromeo, “pulled no punches when arguing that the Senate pairing for the Anchorage-area … were both a racial and partisan gerrymander that favored conservatives and drew the entirety of the plan into question.”

Regarding the process, Binkley, the board’s chairman, said, “I think the board earnestly … tried to put together a fair plan … But sometimes, those are in the eyes of the beholder. And some people … can look at one plan and say it’s fair. Other people can look at it and say it’s not fair.”

KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman reported that, since the new map largely altered the state’s Senate districts, 19 of the 20 districts will hold elections in 2022. Alaska normally staggers elections to its Senate with half the chamber holding elections in one even-year cycle and the other half holding elections in the next and all members serving four-year terms. In 2022, certain districts will elect senators to two-year terms while others will elect them to four-year terms in order to restart the staggered process under the new lines. Alaska’s House districts hold elections every two years.

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