Rep. Christopher Kurka, a Republican from Wasilla, will run for Alaska governor in 2022, he announced Monday.
Kurka, a former director of Alaska Right to Life, was elected to the state House in 2020 and is in his freshman term within the Legislature. In office, he has been a staunch far-right conservative who opposes abortion rights and measures aimed at combating COVID-19, calling them “extreme evil.”
In a prerecorded video announcing his campaign, and in a subsequent interview, Kurka said he believes Alaska’s conservatives are frustrated and feel betrayed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy for failing to deliver on promises he made during his 2018 campaign.
“I represent a very, very, very large — really, I feel like it’s the entire base of the governor — that just feels abandoned,” he said.
His campaign video claims Alaska “is awash in Big Pharma-manipulated federal blood money” being used to encourage vaccinations and deter alternate treatments.
Kurka said the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic inappropriately infringed upon individual rights, that his new plan for the Permanent Fund dividend is a reversal of campaign promises, and that he has failed to answer conservatives’ call for an in-depth audit of the 2020 election. (A partial audit was conducted and found few problems.)
In the just-completed legislative redistricting process — boundaries may still be challenged in court — Kurka and fellow incumbent Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, were placed in the same district.
Without that change, “honestly, I would never have considered governor,” Kurka said.
Dunleavy said in a brief interview Monday morning he isn’t surprised that another candidate is entering the race, though “if you asked me yesterday, I wouldn’t have thought (Christopher Kurka) would be at the top of the list, but then again, I don’t have a top of the list.”
Dunleavy said there are always “differences under the big tent within the Republican Party,” and that once voters examine the differences between campaign rhetoric and the facts, his record will speak for itself.
Under Alaska’s new election system, all candidates — regardless of party — will compete in the same August primary election. The top four finishers advance to the November general election, where a winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.
As of Monday, Les Gara, a Democrat from Anchorage, Republican incumbent Dunleavy, independent Bill Walker, Libertarian Billy Toien, and Libertarian Roman Shevchuk had also registered as governor candidates with either the Division of Elections or the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The deadline for candidates to enter the race is June 1, and both Dunleavy and Kurka said they expect additional candidates to jump in.
Alaska’s new election system also requires the governor and lieutenant governor to run together on a single ticket. Kurka said he has not yet picked a lieutenant governor candidate.
Political analyst Ivan Moore said Kurka’s entry into the race doesn’t immediately upset the race, but that could change in the long run if Kurka becomes more well-known among voters.
“The conservative right isn’t happy with Dunleavy, and a certain proportion of them are going to be looking for an alternative, but it’s a big task,” Moore said.
Kurka said it’s not an impossible task, pointing to the November defeat of New Jersey’s longtime Senate president by a truck driver who raised just $150 in contributions. Kurka said he believes many Alaskans are dissatisfied with traditional candidates and looking for an alternative.
Former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller endorsed Kurka in a video Monday morning, saying Dunleavy has “waved the white flag of surrender” when it comes to cutting the state budget.
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, a conservative member of the state House alongside Kurka, said Dunleavy “has definitely gotten more center on some issues than conservatives feel he needs to be, but his recent stance regarding the Biden mandates is definitely the governor that we feel that we elected.”
“I think the governor’s actions in this next year are going to determine the next election,” she said.
Based on polling he has conducted, Moore said Gara, Dunleavy and Walker are the three “heavy hitters” most likely to advance from the primary to the general election, if the election were to be held today, and the remaining candidates are competing for the fourth spot.
Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO and its former political director, has a different perspective. The AFL-CIO is one of Alaska’s most powerful political organizations.
Hall believes far-right conservatives and libertarians account for maybe a quarter of Alaska’s electorate, and said Miller’s coordinated announcement with Kurka points to a degree of organization that could threaten Dunleavy.
“If he loses all of the far right and everyone left in the middle has seen that he can’t (accomplish) what he promises to do, you know, does he come in fourth in the four-way race?” she said.