Politics

Anchorage state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson is 1st Democrat to enter race for U.S. Senate

220209 Gray-Jackson

JUNEAU — Democratic Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson of Anchorage registered Thursday morning as a candidate for U.S. Senate in this year’s elections.

Gray-Jackson is the first Black U.S. Senate candidate in Alaska history and is the first Democrat to confirm a run for the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“Alaskans deserve better. They really do. And me running for United States Senate, now they’re going to have a choice,” she said Wednesday.

She said that if elected, she would support a law guaranteeing abortion rights. She said she opposes Pebble mine and will support oil and gas drilling on federal lands in Alaska “if it’s done environmentally correct.”

Talking to reporters Thursday, she said she supports increasing the national minimum wage and wants to see more reliable health care access.

Gray-Jackson’s entry into the race is not a surprise. She said she had been considering a campaign for six months and had talked openly about it. The website of the Alaska Democratic Party featured a message telling Alaskans to ask her to run for U.S. Senate. At least one public opinion poll used her name as the default Democratic candidate when examining the Senate race.

That poll found her finishing as voters’ third choice.

Before being elected to the state Senate in 2018, she worked as a budget analyst for the Anchorage Assembly and was on the Assembly from 2008 through 2017. She said her experience in local government gives her an advantage that neither Murkowski nor Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka have.

“Throughout the time that I’ve been in public service, I’ve been out there in the community, helping Alaskans navigate through government, helping them deal with potholes, helping them deal with drainage issues. And I have tons of experience on different projects that I can talk about, and I understand what they need, because I haven’t just been working for Alaskans. I’ve been working with them for many, many years,” she said.

Nate Adams, Murkowski’s campaign manager, said, “With today’s announcement, there are now two candidates, Sen. Murkowski and Elvi Gray-Jackson, in this race with decades of public service to Alaska and a track record on which to run. Sen. Murkowski looks forward to debating the best approach to move Alaska forward and defending her record of bipartisan leadership to continue to deliver for Alaskans.”

Asked about her status as Alaska’s first Black U.S. Senate candidate, Gray-Jackson said she’s thought about the “historical nature of her candidacy.” If elected, she would be just the third Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“Every time we see Congress gather, I’m reminded of how far our country has come and how far it still needs to go,” she said.

She will not resign from the Alaska Legislature before the end of this year’s session, she said.

Sitting legislators are prohibited from fundraising for a state election or for someone else’s federal election while the Legislature is in session. There is no prohibition if a legislator is raising money for their own federal campaign, said Jerry Anderson, administrator of the Legislature’s Ethics Committee.

Using state resources for a campaign is prohibited, and Gray-Jackson said she will not fundraise from the Capitol. She agreed to an interview only if it took place outside the Capitol.

Murkowski and 10 others have already registered as official Senate candidates with the Alaska Division of Elections. That figure does not include Gray-Jackson or Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

In a prepared statement, Tshibaka said Gray-Jackson’s entry “makes two Democrats for voters to consider” because Murkowski’s positions are indistinguishable from those of a Democratic candidate.

“Between Jackson and Murkowski, there is no difference in how they would support abortion, oppose border security, approve liberal judges, or vote to confirm Joe Biden’s radical nominees who support defunding the police and hate our energy industries,” she said.

Under Alaska’s new election system, Alaskans will be asked to vote for one U.S. Senate candidate in the August primary election. The top four vote-getters will advance to the general election, where voters will be asked to rank them in order of preference.

A winner will be calculated using ranked-choice voting, and the result will be announced 15 days after the Nov. 8 general election.

James Brooks

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

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