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Education advocate aiming to unseat longtime Alaska Rep. Don Young

  • Author: Becky Bohrer, Associated Press
  • Updated: August 13
  • Published August 13

In this Aug. 5, 2018, photo, independent U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin, center, speaks during a meet-and-greet at a tea shop in Juneau, Alaska. Galvin is running in the Aug. 21 Democratic primary for U.S. House in Alaska. The state Democratic party changed its rules to let independents run in its primary. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

JUNEAU — When Alyse Galvin ran into resistance from some state legislators in a fight over school funding, she didn't give up. She got a loudspeaker.

In 2017, the activist, along with other worried moms, helped gather hundreds of letters from Alaskans urging legislators not to cut school funding amid a state budget deficit. The letters were read on the Capitol steps during an hours-long event — replete with props — that Galvin helped organize.

When a budget finally passed two months later, schools were fully funded. One legislator says the persistence of Galvin's organization, Great Alaska Schools, made a difference.

It's that tenacity that supporters say will serve Galvin, a familiar face at the Capitol, well if she accomplishes her next goal: election to the U.S. House.

The independent is seeking the Democratic nomination and a chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Don Young, a Republican who has held the office for 45 years. If elected, Galvin would be the first woman to hold Alaska's lone House seat.

Her opponents in the Aug. 21 primary are Democrats Dimitri Shein and Carol Hafner, who does not live in Alaska, and independent Christopher Cumings. Young is expected to win his primary.

Of her primary opponents, Shein has been the most active, pushing an agenda that includes Medicare for all. He said he's bothered by Galvin's ties to the oil and gas industry: her husband, Pat Galvin, is an executive with Great Bear Petroleum.

Galvin said she wants to diversify a state economy that relies largely on oil and see greater investment in renewable energy. She said she supports responsible resource development and that more needs to be done in response to climate change. Both she and her husband, a Democrat who served as state revenue commissioner during then-Gov. Sarah Palin's administration, drive hybrid Priuses.

But she's the candidate, she notes — not her husband. "I'm my own person. … Anybody who knows me knows that."

In college in California, Galvin trained to be an opera singer but found it "a little bit self-serving," so she switched her focus to political science. Her background includes work in fish processing, managing a hotel and volunteering with Great Alaska Schools.

Alison Arians, who worked with Galvin on Great Alaska Schools, said Galvin is the smartest, hardest-working person she has known."To me, I can't think of somebody who would be more likely to get in there and be able to, I'm not saying change how Congress works, but maybe she could," Arians said.

Deena Mitchell, who knows Galvin through their education advocacy, said Galvin listens and has empathy but is also tough and does what she thinks is right. "She can push back when she needs to," Mitchell said.

Galvin initially intended to help like-minded candidates get elected before deciding to jump in herself, becoming part of a record number of women running for the House. Her own top-level campaign staff is all women, which she said was intentional, though she said that could change as the campaign grows.

Galvin, 53, said she was frustrated by what sees as a lack of leadership and the ongoing partisan rancor. Most registered voters in Alaska identify as independents, and Galvin said she's grateful the Democratic Party opened its primary to give those like her — whose values align closely with the party's — a voice.

It's important for people to work together, and that has been missing in Congress, she said. "I am one of those who just believes that we can find common ground enough to get things done," she said.

Health care costs are an ongoing concern for Alaskans. Galvin said she wants comprehensive coverage for everyone. She added, however, that there are things that can be done to fix the existing system in the meantime, including opening health care exchanges across state lines to expand coverage pools and enacting policies that lower prescription drug costs.

Galvin said she wouldn't take money from corporate political action committees but has accepted contributions from two union PACs, including $4,000 from the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, the PAC of the major teachers union that endorsed her.

At a recent meet-and-greet at a tea shop in Juneau that played New Age-y music, whenever the conversation ebbed, Galvin would ask if there were more questions or concerns or ideas to share.

Aaron Brakel, a facilities manager who attended the event, said he was deciding between Galvin and Shein but said he liked what he heard from Galvin.

Galvin has mounted a vigorous campaign, crisscrossing the state — sometimes traveling in her family RV emblazoned with her campaign logo.

She said she respects Young's service, but it's time for new energy.

Young, 85, recently referred to cellphones as "the worst thing that God ever gave man." His spokeswoman says that's a reference to how phones can be distracting and says Young thinks traveling the state and speaking with people one-on-one is the best form of communication.

Galvin said people are excited she knows how to text and uses Facebook Live to engage with them.

In one Facebook video last month, Galvin recorded herself calling Young's office to lament his lack of response to President Donald Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which both Alaska's U.S. senators weighed in on.

The video was part tutorial — showing people how to call their congressman, down to giving them his office number — and part infomercial, saying she hopes people will call her, too, with concerns.

Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed to this report from Anchorage.

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