Meet Don Young’s conservative primary challenger

WASHINGTON — Thomas "John" Nelson decided to jump in the primary race against 45-year Alaska Congressman Don Young with just an hour to go before the filing deadline. He said he talked to his wife; he prayed on it; he decided to give it a go.

Nelson, 53, is a businessman and a financial adviser. His grandparents came to Alaska in 1948 and settled in Anchorage. His wife's family homesteaded in Willow in the 1950s. He and his wife settled in Chugiak, and now the Valley. They have three children, one grandchild, and two more on the way.

And now he wants to be the congressman for all Alaska — at least for a little while. Nelson said he'll fight for term limits. He noted, though, that elections are supposed to act as term limits.

"Anchorage is just not the Anchorage I grew up in … and I'm really concerned about the direction Alaska's going in, and I'm concerned about the direction our country's going," Nelson said in an interview this week.

[Here are the people challenging Don Young for Alaska's sole congressional seat]

Nelson blames citizen apathy, and said that "our schools and pulpits" are teaching people not to talk about politics and religion, and that is keeping people from getting involved.

That said, Nelson has nothing negative to say about Young. He said he would embrace the congressman's many years of experience, but that it's time to start fresh.


"When I was in the sixth grade, I sent a letter to the newly elected congressman Don Young," Nelson said. "In my first election, I voted for Ronald Reagan and Don Young… (and) have faithfully voted for Don Young ever since," he said. But at some point, it's time for a new generation, he said. Young is 85 years old on June 9.

['Why quit?' Alaska Rep. Don Young, 84 and proud of his accomplishments, says he has the energy for a 24th term]

Nelson said his focus will be on removing "federal overreach" and reducing wasteful spending. "We don't need another politician. We don't need a lawyer who is trained how to circumvent the Constitution," he said.

"If we go back to the founding documents of this great country that made it great … and we follow the Constitution, that's the solution," Nelson said.

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said the party remains neutral on the primary race, but that he has spoken to Nelson about his candidacy.

Nelson was a delegate to the state Republican convention in 2016 and 2018, Babcock said. And he served as treasurer for Joe Miller's 2016 Senate run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Babcock also noted that Nelson worked to bring constitutional liberty speaker KrisAnne Hall up to Alaska to give speeches to community groups in April.

Erica Martinson

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