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Rep. Don Young faces challenge from Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna

Eric Christopher Adams
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The "Congressman for all Alaska" officially has a challenger. Finally.

Alaska Rep. Sharon Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat who represents the Midtown university-medical district, announced Wednesday she'd campaign this fall to unseat 20-term incumbent Congressman Don Young.

Cissna, who's celebrating her 70th birthday this week, made it official at a small press conference at the state capitol building in Juneau, where she and the rest of Alaska's lawmakers are hoping to soon wrap up their business and return home.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon with Alaska Dispatch, Cissna said she was excited to get out of Juneau and back to Anchorage, where she looked forward to diving into spring gardening. She loves Anchorage. She loves Alaska, and has lived here some 45 years, she said.

So why throw herself into a campaign that if successful would take her to Washington, D.C. -- about as far as one can get from the mountains and valleys of the Last Frontier? What's changed?

It's not necessarily that Rep. Young is doing a bad job. Or at least she wasn't willing to get into it on such a sunny afternoon, with so much to be optimistic about as winter snows melt.

Call Cissna an issues-driven candidate. And the issue that drives her more than any other at this juncture? That would be the Transportation Security Administration.

"The TSA makes me feel very strongly that it's time to go to Washington, D.C., and deal with what's happening. Congress isn't properly conducting oversight of how the TSA invades our privacy. I'm tough. I will make sure … the Congress holds TSA accountable," she said.

Cissna became something of a national sensation back in February of 2011. She was returning to Alaska when Seattle-Tacoma International Airport TSA agents singled her out for a pat-down at security. Rather than be subjected to a "degrading" search, Cissna embarked on an adventure that took her to Prince Rupert, Canada, via small airplane, where she caught a ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway that finally delivered her to Juneau.

Cissna is a cancer survivor and says the treatments she underwent "changed her body" so that she sets off the airport scanners. But that doesn't give the TSA the right to invade her privacy -- or anyone else's.

"While the TSA says they are watching out for people -- I think they really are breaking the will of the people. That way, we will be easier to manipulate. We are being broken by the TSA," she said.

"This security buildup -- it's bad for the country and it's bad for Alaska," she reiterated Wednesday.

So what else inspires her to give up the Alaska life for D.C.? Other issues she'd like to tackle in the Beltway on behalf of Alaskans and the country include deficit control, Arctic development and health-care reform.

Cissna on the deficit: "This Congress is spending enormous amounts of money and it simply isn't being spent well. I can help do something about that."

Cissna on Arctic development: "Congress needs to do more to understand and address the special problems the U.S. faces as an Arctic state. Congress and leaders should be paying attention to and visiting rural Alaska, community by community, to understand the needs of an Arctic state."

Cissna said she'd support modifying the landmark health care bill known to some as ACA (the Affordable Care Act) and to others as ObamaCare.

The co-chair of the Alaska Legislative Health Caucus said she'd work to change the health insurance reform law so that it "better blends" with Alaska's state and tribal public health systems, which she called "comprehensive" and "working well for many."

"I'd like to help bring together what Washington, D.C., can do for us (on health care) in a way that works for and with Alaska, along with the private sector," she said. "We need to come up with unique answers to Alaska's needs" and the Affordable Care Act as written might not be the vehicle to achieve that, she suggested.

Democrats have been frustrated for decades in their attempts to unseat Don Young, who's served 19 full terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, despite investigations that have amounted to death knells for other congressmen and women.

Cissna doesn't seem interested in attacking Young on anything. In fact, she hopes to maintain what she called a non-adversarial campaign.

That said, Cissna added she welcomed any and all opportunities to debate Young during the campaign.

In a late afternoon email from spokesperson Luke Miller, Young said "he was humbled by the tremendous support he'd received during the last election and still had the fire to fight for Alaskans."

With Rep. Cissna in the race, Young "looks forward to the campaign season," he said.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com