Two candidates filed at the last minute Friday to challenge Assembly member Amy Demboski for her Chugiak-Eagle River seat: Nicholas Begich III, a nephew of former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, and Blake Merrifield, a former candidate for state House.
Begich and Merrifield filed as candidates in the nonpartisan election Friday afternoon, a few hours before the deadline. In a phone interview Friday, Begich, a Chugiak resident who has never before sought public office, said worries about the fiscal climate prompted him to run.
"Looking at the … pending economic clouds on the horizon, it's pretty clear we need some strong leadership and a steady hand on the Assembly," Begich said.
Begich added that it appeared, as the filing deadline approached, that no one else would be running against Demboski. He said he thought it was important for voters to have a choice.
Merrifield, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Lynn Gattis for state House as a Democrat in Wasilla in 2012, said his main reason for running was also because it appeared to him that Demboski would not have a challenger.
"I used to live in the Valley … it was a frustration with me, watching incumbents run unopposed," Merrifield said. He said he hadn't known Begich was filing and he was glad there were more choices. He added he was still weighing whether his work commitments would allow him to stay in the race.
Begich, 38, is the son of Nick Begich Jr. -- the oldest son of Nick Begich, who was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives when he disappeared while flying to Juneau in 1972. Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, who also served as Anchorage mayor, is his uncle.
Nicholas Begich, who said he's a lifelong Republican, is well aware of his family's political legacy.
"Especially out in Chugiak-Eagle River … I think a lot of people will find it difficult to believe I'm a conservative," Begich said.
But growing up in the Begich household, he said, Christmases were called "the Great Debate" because of the variety of opinions. He said his father Nick, who lives in Chickaloon, is a registered Libertarian.
Begich owns a software business, FarShore Partners, which he said employs about 150 people globally. He said he's also invested in around 40 startups over the last five years.
He earned an undergraduate degree in business at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a master's degree in business administration at Indiana University. He said he moved back to Alaska about 12 years ago to be closer to his family and to start his own family.
Merrifield, a 43-year-old Chugiak resident, works for a heavy equipment rental company in South Anchorage.
A Fairbanks native, Merrifield graduated from the University of Missouri with an archaeology degree and spent two summers in the Middle East working as an archaeologist. He said he and his wife, who teaches in the Spanish immersion program at Chugiak High School, moved from Fairbanks in 2008 but ended up in Wasilla because they couldn't afford to live in Chugiak.
But, he said their financial situation improved enough they could move to Chugiak two years ago.
Asked about what he'd like to do if he were elected to the Assembly, Merrifield said: "The same thing I try to do during the day today: Try to get roads fixed and improve infrastructure."
He said he'd like to focus on spurring housing and commercial development in Anchorage. He also said he's concerned about homelessness, which he said would take collaboration between the government and the private sector to improve.
Merrifield also said while he ran as a Democrat in 2012, he's now an independent.