Alaska Rep. Mike Hawker drops re-election bid

Rep. Mike Hawker, who has long represented the Anchorage Hillside as a Republican in the Alaska Legislature, is withdrawing his bid to seek another term.

Hawker has had cancer for several years. He has also faced criticism over the leading role he played in the Legislature's new and costly lease for its upgraded Anchorage offices.

"After 14 years in public office, I'm moving on to undertake other things," said Hawker in a statement released by his office on Wednesday.

"I'm 60 years old. I am beating terminal cancer. And I am fully vested in my retirement health benefits," said Hawker, a trusted confidant and policy architect of the House majority, though he doesn't play an official leadership role.

Hawker withdrew from the November election on Tuesday and plans to complete a term that extends through early 2017, said Juli Lucky, Hawker's key legislative aide.

Hawker said in the statement he's leaning toward a new calling.

"I want to devote more time to studying for ordination as a Roman Catholic deacon, to work on health care reform, and to make the most of my miraculous response to cancer treatment and the renewed life God has given me," he said.

Hawker did not return calls or a text message.

Longtime Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault said Hawker's departure in 2017 will be a loss for the Legislature.

Hawker, a former co-chair of the House Finance Committee, played a leading role in legislation establishing the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., a state agency partnering with large oil companies to conduct early design studies of the proposed $55 billion Alaska LNG project.

Chenault said Hawker also introduced legislation in 2010 credited with boosting higher oil and gas production in Cook Inlet by increasing financial incentives for exploration.

"I hate to see Mike leave the Legislature," said Chenault. "He has a great grasp on oil and gas tax issues and also the budget with his CPA background."

Hawker easily won re-election in 2014 against Democrat Sam Combs, an architect who challenged Hawker's role in the office lease. But with the looming fiscal crisis in state government, including billion-dollar deficits filled only through rapidly depleting savings, the lease at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office has become a greater target of criticism.

In January, the lease, which Hawker negotiated, increased the Legislature's annual rent to $4 million, up from $680,000 last year after a renovation and upgrade of the six-story building. The Legislative Council on Dec. 19 recommended the full Legislature end the lease but possibly buy the building or move into the state-owned Atwood Building. The council provided a 45-day window for lawmakers to come up with a deal.

Ross Bieling, a Republican contender for the House seat and co-owner of a business manufacturing orthopedic products, issued a press release last month calling for Hawker's resignation over the lease. Bieling accused Hawker of secretly collaborating with developer Mark Pfeffer in emails that were released as part of a citizen's lawsuit challenging the lease.

Shirley Cote has registered to run for the primary election as a Democrat. Cote was the Soldotna police chief and the director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Both Cote and Bieling commended Hawker's service and said voters in the district have a lot of respect for his accomplishments.

But they said voters are nervous about the deficit. In that light, the costly new lease is a "catalyst" that has people paying attention, Cote said.

"People are disappointed about how it was handled," she said.

Hawker's decision to withdraw has also led Jennifer Johnston, an outgoing Anchorage Assembly member and Republican, to consider entering the race. She's interested in working to resolve the state's fiscal deficit, she said.

"I'll probably decide in the next couple of weeks. I need to talk to supporters and to think about it," she said.