South Anchorage Republicans nominate 3 candidates for vacant state house seat

South Anchorage Republican officials have nominated three people to fill the House seat vacated by the appointment of Josh Revak to the Alaska Senate.

Meeting Monday night, party officials chose Jamie Donley, Mel Gillis and Forrest McDonald as finalists for the seat. Gov. Mike Dunleavy will make the final selection no later than Dec. 2, and his choice is subject to a confirmation vote by the Republican members of the Alaska House of Representatives. Brian Webb also applied for the seat but did not make the list of finalists.

“We’ve got three good candidates that know the area well and I think that whoever the governor picks, we’re going to be in good hands,” McDonald said after the vote.

Dunleavy is not required by law to pick one of the three finalists, but governors customarily follow the desires of local officials.

In 2018, after Dunleavy himself resigned from the Alaska Senate to focus on his run for governor, former Gov. Bill Walker encountered problems when he attempted to appoint a replacement who was not nominated by local officials. Other governors have encountered similar problems by venturing off-list.

This year, even following the list wasn’t enough. Following the death of Anchorage Sen. Chris Birch, South Anchorage Republicans nominated state Rep. Laddie Shaw to replace him, only to see Senate Republicans fail to confirm him. Revak, not on the list from local Republicans, was confirmed instead.

Revak’s departure opened a vacancy in the House, but even before he took his oath of office, local Republicans had begun considering who might replace him.

Some prospects said they were turned off by the state’s rancorous political climate. In the end, only four applicants submitted applications during a weeklong window opened by the state party.

The four were interviewed behind closed doors in an executive session held at Republican Party headquarters. The candidates were questioned in an open session together, then District 25 officials invited each into private question and answer sessions.

“It wasn’t as bad as the murder boards I faced in the military for promotion or for schools," Webb said.

After the questioning, candidates were allowed to give closing statements before district officials voted.

• Jamie Donley is a registered lobbyist for Hope Community Resources and the spouse of Anchorage School Board member Dave Donley, who also works for the Dunleavy administration as a deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration.

• Mel Gillis is a longtime hunting and fishing guide decades removed from his Texas birthplace. He was a major donor to the independent expenditure group that supported Revak’s election in 2018.

• Forrest McDonald is a real estate agent who worked for Revak during the most recent legislative session. He is a U.S. Army veteran, married and has two daughters. In 2016, he was a registered Democrat and unsuccessfully ran for Alaska Senate against Republican Natasha von Imhof. In 2018, he ran as a Republican against Democrat Chris Tuck in House District 23. He subsequently moved to House District 25.

• Brian Webb is a health and safety manager for Glacier Oil & Gas. A graduate of Bartlett High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps four days after graduation. After his initial enlistment, he transferred to the Navy as a corpsman, then became a medic in the Army and, after another transfer, in the Air Force. He has two children and one granddaughter. His twin brother ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 2008. He ran the Iron Dog snowmachine race in 2014 and worked on the Revak campaign in 2018.

The eventual appointee will face a learning curve resembling a sheer cliff. The next legislative session begins Jan. 21 and will be immediately followed by a re-election campaign. In 2018, voters in the district elected Revak but also chose Alyse Galvin over Don Young in the U.S House race and Mark Begich over Dunleavy for governor, indicating a willingness to vote for Republicans or Democrats.

Webb, who acknowledged he was the dark horse (and said the tally reflected that), said he would be glad to help in the election campaign for whoever is eventually appointed.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.