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Alaska Legislature

Democrats approve Kotzebue man to represent northern Alaska in state House

Downtown Juneau and the Alaska Capitol. (Marc Lester / ADN)

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has selected John Lincoln, an executive at the Kotzebue-based NANA Regional Corp., to replace Dean Westlake, the former state House member who resigned last month amid allegations of unwanted sexual advances.

Walker announced his decision late Wednesday, and House Democrats approved Lincoln's appointment Thursday evening.

After passing over the three candidates suggested by the Alaska Democratic Party, Walker interviewed two more this week — Lincoln and Abel Hopson-Suvlu, who works for a regional Native health organization in the North Slope hub town of Utqiagvik.

Walker, in a prepared statement, said he wanted "the person who is best-prepared to lead at this pivotal moment in Alaska's history."

"I thank everyone who stepped forward and applied, but I am fully convinced that John Lincoln is the best person for this role," the statement quoted Walker as saying.

Lincoln is 36, grew up in Kotzebue and is one-fourth Inupiaq. He volunteered for the job, he said in a phone interview, "because I think the people in my district deserve representation like everyone else, and it seemed like they wanted someone to step up and volunteer."

"I really care about my district and the people that live here," he said. "And if there's an opportunity for me to help then I wanted to help."

Lincoln is vice president of lands at NANA, the Native regional corporation for Northwest Alaska; he plans to take a leave of absence during the legislative session, he said.

He graduated from Stanford University — after turning down Harvard University, according to a 2015 ADN story — sits on the tribal council for the Native Village of Kotzebue and has worked at Maniilaq Association, a regional Native health organization.

A state voter database shows Lincoln was not registered with a party as of last year; he had to join the Democratic Party before being officially appointed.

Lincoln, who has a 2-year-old daughter, said he aims to be in Juneau by Monday at the latest.

Walker's choice of Lincoln means that District 40, which sprawls 650 miles across northern Alaska, will continue to be represented by someone from Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic region, rather than from the oil-rich North Slope. But Lincoln downplayed the differences between the two areas.

"Our regions have been close for a really long time. We're all Inupiaq, historically. And I have as much of a responsibility for understanding any kind of unique issue that they have as for anyone else in the district," he said. "And that goes for Interior villages, too."

Before Westlake was elected in 2016, the seat was held by Bennie Nageak of Utqiagvik. Nageak was one of several rural Democrats who caucused with the Republicans who at the time controlled the House; the Democratic Party targeted him for defeat and supported Westlake's campaign.

Lincoln is expected to caucus with the new, largely Democratic House majority that took power last year after Nageak and another rural Democrat who caucused with Republicans, Bob Herron of Bethel, lost their re-election bids. Herron's replacement, Bethel Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler, also caucuses with the House majority.

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