WASHINGTON — Alaska Rep.-elect Mary Peltola, who will be sworn into office here Tuesday, said Monday she’s hired the former chief of staff of the late Rep. Don Young for the same key role in her office.
Peltola, a Democrat elected to fill the remaining months of Young’s term, is hiring Alex Ortiz, a longtime staffer for Young, a nod to her Republican predecessor.
The hiring of Ortiz, originally from Ketchikan, comes as Peltola prepares for her swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday to become a fully fledged member of Congress. She arrived in Washington, D.C., on Sunday and on Monday, she spent a busy day doing news interviews – a spokesman said she has over 100 media requests a day – taking meetings, receiving a member pin to grant her access to the House floor, and getting the keys to her new office once occupied by Young.
Peltola won a special election to carry out the last four months of the term held by Young before his death. She faces another election in November. She is running against former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III, both Republicans, and Libertarian fishing guide Chris Bye.
Ortiz said his experience working in Alaska’s at-large seat in Congress and his connection to Young positions him to help Peltola’s team get office operations off the ground.
“One of the things that she’s really excited about is the possibility of one having continuity with the office, having a seamless transition as much as possible,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz noted that his time with Young didn’t grant him much experience setting up a freshman office. In his decade of work for the congressman, he was nearly 40 years late to see the start of Young’s 49-year team.
He held various positions in Young’s office before becoming chief of staff in January 2021. After Young’s passing, Ortiz remained working for the at-large Alaska office for several months before saying he planned to work in lobbying. Chief of staff is the top aide in a Congress-member’s office, typically responsible for overseeing office functions.
Asked about his decision to work for a Democrat, Ortiz responded, “Most importantly, I’m working for Rep. Peltola.”
Peltola has said her family was close with Young’s — her mother campaigned for Young before he was elected in 1973 and her father taught alongside Young when they first moved to Alaska from the Lower 48. Peltola has spent Thanksgiving with Young’s family and testified before him in a congressional hearing on fishery issues. The soon-to-be congresswoman has indicated she plans to continue Young’s legacy, listing bills relating to fishery management and labor protections as priorities; both had been on Young’s docket.
The announcement comes a day before Peltola’s swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill where she will recite the oath of office and become a member of the House of Representatives. Tuesday, Peltola’s new team will also get on the congressional payroll and take on their official titles.
Other interim staffing picks include Claire Richardson, a former journalist who later worked for Alaska Govs. Tony Knowles, Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. As director of constituent services, Richardson will work with Alaskans to navigate the federal government from acquiring passports to receiving social security benefits.
Hector Jimenez, Peltola’s deputy campaign manager, will work as scheduler, setting the congresswoman’s daily agenda. Josh Wilson, also from the campaign, will serve as communications director. Larry Persily, who worked in the Washington office for the State of Alaska, was a deputy revenue commissioner for the state and was federal coordinator for Alaska natural gas projects, will be senior policy adviser.
Before the swearing-in ceremony, Peltola is scheduled to appear at the White House for the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed Congress in a partisan vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. After her swearing-in, she is expected to vote for the first time on the House floor and will attend a reception hosted by the Alaska Federation of Natives. Peltola is the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress and the first woman to hold Alaska’s House seat.
Ortiz said he was comfortable taking a job with Peltola’s office, even though his role may only exist until the end of the congressional term in January.
“I’ve let her know that I am serving however works best for her,” Ortiz said. “I just want to do right by her for this term, finishing out Congressman Young’s term. That is my first and only priority at the moment is focused on this term.”