Thomas Baker, a Republican from Kotzebue, was chosen Wednesday by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to replace independent state Rep. Josiah Patkotak in the Alaska House, after Patkotak was elected last month to serve as North Slope Borough mayor.
The district previously represented by Patkotak, home to some 18,000 people, is roughly 135,000 square miles and stretches from Kotzebue east to the Canadian border — making it larger than all but four states.
Baker’s goals in the Legislature are to advocate for “a full statutory PFD for the people, responsible resource development, tackling rural issues such as power cost equalization” and to “lower the cost of living,” he said in a brief phone interview Wednesday.
The annual Permanent Fund dividend has not been calculated according to the existing state statute in recent years, with much of the Permanent Fund earnings going to fund state services. State analysts broadly agree the current statute for calculating the dividend is unsustainable, and most lawmakers did not advocate for a full statutory dividend last year.
The size of the dividend is a key issue that has dominated legislative sessions for more than five years. The member from the 40th House district belongs to the powerful Bush Caucus, which represents communities in rural Alaska. In recent years, the caucus has played a key role in determining control of the state House, amid deep divisions between the Republicans who hold a majority of the seats in the chamber.
Republicans hold a tenuous majority in the state House, thanks to the Bush Caucus’ decision to join with Republicans in forming a majority last year. Aside from Baker, the Bush Caucus includes two Democrats and an independent.
Baker has not previously served in the Legislature. He ran in 2020 for the state Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Donny Olson of Golovin, receiving less than 35% of the vote.
Baker is a construction operations manager for the Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp. and chairs the regional advisory council for the Federal Subsistence Board. He has served on the Kotzebue City Council and Kotzebue’s tribal council. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Dartmouth College.
Baker is the son of Andy Baker, who is a registered state lobbyist. According to the state directory, Andy Baker has lobbied this year for the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, the City of Kiana, and Peltola Solutions LLC, a consulting firm founded by Buzzy Peltola, the late husband of U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola. In previous years, Andy Baker has lobbied for the North Slope Borough and the Northwest Arctic Borough, among other clients.
Andy Baker is also a supporter of Dunleavy’s, having contributed $5,000 to his reelection campaign in 2022.
“My father is my father and I don’t really have anything to say on what he does for work. I know in the past he has been a registered lobbyist, but I don’t know what his status is at the moment,” Thomas Baker said Wednesday. “We’re family, but the role comes first, so all measures will be taken to make sure there’s no violations of conduct or ethics or anything.”
State law requires lawmakers to declare conflicts of interest before voting on bills where they may have one. Legislators cannot accept gifts from lobbyists, and they are required by law to disclose close economic associations with lobbyists, such as joint businesses or domiciles.
State law dictates that a replacement in the Legislature is subject to confirmation by members of the outgoing member’s party, but since Patkotak was neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican, it has been unclear whether Baker is required to undergo a confirmation vote — and if so, by whom.
According to the governor’s office, Baker’s name “will be forwarded to the Republican members of the Alaska House of Representatives for a confirmation vote.”
Baker said he would assume the role only after a confirmation vote but did not know when such a vote would occur, and he deferred questions on the timing of the vote to House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.
Tilton did not respond to phone calls Wednesday. Tilton’s adviser Heath Hilyard said Wednesday that majority leadership would meet Thursday to discuss a confirmation vote. That meeting would include Tilton, Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River; Majority Whip Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton; and House Finance co-chairs Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer; Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
After Patkotak’s departure from the Legislature, the governor’s office put out a call for nominations to the seat. According to the governor’s office, 12 people applied, including seven nonpartisan candidates, four registered Republicans and one Democrat.
Baker said he learned about the vacancy on Facebook. After submitting his application, he was interviewed by Dunleavy and his staff.
Aside from Baker, applicants included Calvin Moto, a Republican from Deering; Eben Hopson, an independent from Utqiaġvik; Derek Haviland Lie, an independent from Kotzebue; John Monnin, a Republican from Utqiaġvik; Clay Nordlum, an independent from Kotzebue; Saima Chase, a Democrat from Kotzebue; Davette Phillip, an independent from Tuluksak; Francis Hugo, an independent from Anaktuvuk Pass; Judy Sellens, an independent from Anchorage; Greta Schuerch, an independent from Kotzebue; and Jay Rolf Armstrong, a Republican from Coldfoot.