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Alaska Legislature

Iditarod icon DeeDee Jonrowe considers a political race

DeeDee Jonrowe signs a dog bootie during her visit to the Alaska Capitol on Thursday. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

JUNEAU — Iditarod mushing icon DeeDee Jonrowe may not have run her last great race after all.

Jonrowe, who competed this year in what she says is her last Iditarod, is now contemplating a run for elected office, she said Monday.

"It's fair to say that there are a lot of people that seem to think that I have something to offer," Jonrowe, a Republican, said in a phone interview from her home in Willow. She added: "It is a dilemma."

Jonrowe, 64, has started 36 Iditarods and twice finished as runner-up. She dropped out 150 miles into this year's race after suffering flu-like symptoms.

Jonrowe, a cancer and car crash survivor beloved by fans and fellow mushers, would bring a compelling biography to political office. She was in Juneau last week to receive a citation from the Legislature — an experience that she said helped boost her interest in politics.

But Jonrowe said she has to balance her enthusiasm with what she described as loose ends in her personal life. Her parents both died in the past five years, and her home burned down in a 2015 wildfire.

DeeDee Jonrowe hits the Susitna River during the Iditarod in March. (Bill Roth / ADN)

"I've had some pretty chopped-up quality-of-life things here, and we're just barely getting rebuilt," Jonrowe said.

She added that her husband, Mike Jonrowe, thinks getting into politics would be like "asking to be beat over and over again with a willow wand."

Jonrowe's interest comes amid a shuffling of elected officials in the Mat-Su, her home region.

Her former senator, Republican Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, resigned in January to run for governor.

During the drawn-out fight between local Republicans and Gov. Bill Walker over who should replace Dunleavy, Jonrowe said she was approached by the governor about filling the seat, which a spokesman for Walker confirmed. But with her last Iditarod approaching, the timing wasn't good, Jonrowe said.

Meanwhile, Jonrowe's representative on the Mat-Su Borough Assembly, Randall Kowalke, is leaving his seat to run for the Senate seat now held by Dunleavy's replacement, Mike Shower.

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman at a news conference last year. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

And some members of the Alaska GOP are interested in recruiting a challenger to David Eastman, the fiscally and socially conservative Republican who represents Jonrowe's district in the state House. Eastman's uncompromising stances on issues like abortion and government spending have pleased some conservative activists in his district, but they've also made him unpopular with some Republican legislators in Juneau.

"In his district, he has support," said Suzanne Downing, who runs the conservative news website Must Read Alaska. "I hear from his colleagues now and then with dismay that he's not coming along fast enough, as far as understanding that it's a team sport."

Eastman responded to an interview request with a brief email.

"I'm certain the more liberal Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature would like to recruit someone who more closely aligns with them on issues," he wrote.

Jonrowe said she opposes abortion but would not make the issue a focus if elected to public office. She said she would need to do more "homework" before forming a position on the future of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program. Lawmakers are eyeing the Permanent Fund's investment earnings as a likely fix to the state's massive deficit.

Jonrowe said she's not sure what office she could run for, whether it's Kowalke's Assembly seat or a position in the Legislature. But she knew, offhand, that the filing deadline for the August primary election is June 1.

Jonrowe does have a family history in politics: Her father, Ken Stout, served on the Anchorage Assembly and ran, unsuccessfully, for lieutenant governor and the state House. He was also the head of the Alaska Republican Party in the 1980s.

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