Here are the issues that drive Alaska’s Democratic delegates headed to Philadelphia

As Alaskans head to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week, they're eying a broad range of issues they hope to advance as delegates.

Conversations with more than half of Alaska's Democratic delegates revealed a wide range of interests aligned with the progressive platform, from altering campaign finance laws to boosting access to quality public education.

George Wesley Sookiayak, 35, an Alaska Native who was born in Nome and now lives in Anchorage, said he connected with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders because he felt that his values are closely aligned with his Native heritage.

For him, liberal politics fits his Native values. As a kid, the first muskrat he caught, "I had to skin it and give it to an elder." The first caribou he caught, he had to skin and "give it to those that need it more than I do." And his first moose, he had to "butcher it and divide it out among the elders who needed it most," he said.

[Sanders inspires Alaska Democratic delegates to get involved in politics]

And Sanders "believes in a better society," Sookiayak said. " He believes that we as a people can build ourselves up and put people first and put other organizations, such as banks, big corporations and profiteering companies," second."

Delegate Larry Murakami, 61, from Fairbanks, has similar interests. Murakami told the Clinton campaign he's interested in reforming the banking sector and the laws surrounding campaign funding, he said. There is a "huge structural divide of letting the finance industry drive the country" and determine the nation's "core values," he said. He'd like to see "people get to say what are our core values and not dollars."


James Smallwood, 38, owns a small insurance industry, and said his primary issue is reforming the Affordable Care Act. "I know how it helped so many people and this is one of the main reasons that I got into my business," he said, citing the "opportunity to help those that never had health insurance at all."

But "here in Alaska it's just not working," he said. He's hoping the party can focus on fixing the "red tape" that makes it difficult for people to manage their health care. His main hope is he'll find a way to meet with a high-ranking health care official at the convention so he can advocate for changes.

"Sure, it's a long shot. But this is the only shot I got," he said.

Smallwood doesn't blame the Democratic Party for the health care law's problems, though. It was "a great start," and "they really have to iron out the wrinkles now," he said.

Several delegates said they hope to advocate for broader access to government-organized health care.

Gregory Jones, of Wasilla, said his main focus is prison reform, and reversing mass incarceration. According to Amnesty International, There are more than 2 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. The country accounts for 22 percent of the world's prison population, but only 5 percent of the world's total population.

Several delegates also mentioned hopes that there would be a focus on supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, women and minority populations.

Read the Democratic Party platform here.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.