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Former Kodiak setnetter launches U.S. House challenge to Alaska's Don Young

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 20, 2015

A newly minted lawyer and former Kodiak setnetter is challenging U.S. Rep. Don Young in next year's Republican Party primary.

Paul Hannan, who moved back to the Kenai Peninsula town of Homer in June after three years of law school in Alabama, makes up for his scant political experience with self-confidence.

If elected, Hannan says, he'd improve American relations with Russia by scheduling a sit-down with President Vladimir Putin, through Hannan's connections with the Russian Orthodox Church.

He has a plan to cut down on the number of suicides committed by Alaska Natives. And, Hannan says, he could force through construction of a long-sought road through a national wildlife refuge sought by residents of King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula -- a project that remains unbuilt despite an unrelenting campaign from the state's congressional delegation.

"Within the first 90 days in Congress, I will get that deal done," Hannan said in a phone interview Thursday. "I know how to cut deals -- I've got a bit of Trump in me."

Hannan also wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, not just from the government, but from the dictionary, too. And he thinks there should be a "Native preference" that gives Alaska Natives first rights to fish and game, which he says could help reduce the suicide rate.

First, however, Hannan has to be elected. And to do so, he'll have to unseat Young, who's won 21 straight races since first winning a special election in 1973.

Young is "clueless," Hannan says, citing an incident at Wasilla High School last year when the 82-year-old congressman reportedly used profanity, referenced sex between bulls, and made provocative remarks about suicide.

"For those that like him, who love him, let him retire. Because he needs to," Hannan said. "I'm not saying he has Alzheimer's, but he has shown some indications that are troubling."

A spokesman for Young, Matt Shuckerow, responded to Hannan's comments with a prepared statement.

"Congressman Young has already filed to run in 2016 and looks forward to a spirited and energetic campaign. At this time, he remains focused on his official duties as Congressman for All Alaska," the statement said. "Congressman Young has always welcomed all candidates to the Congressional race and will focus on receiving the Republican nomination next August."

Young will face Hannan in August's Republican Party primary election.

Hannan, 51, has been a registered Republican since moving to the state in 2002 -- with the exception of last month, when he became a Democrat for about two weeks, according to state records.

Hannan said he initially thought that running as a Democrat would be the best way to beat Young, before friends gave him advice to the contrary.

Hannan is not widely known in local Republican circles -- a former district chair, Dick Hawkins, and GOP Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, both said they were unaware of Hannan's candidacy and couldn't recall meeting him.

He'll have a tough time beating Young, given the many challengers with better name recognition who have tried the same task and failed, said Ivan Moore, a local political consultant who's not working with either candidate. Even after his controversial remarks at Wasilla High School last year, Young still won re-election two weeks later, beating Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar by 10 percent.

"The people who have challenged Don Young, it's the largest graveyard of Alaska," Moore said in a phone interview.

He added that Hannan's two-week stint as a Democrat would also be a liability.

"As soon as Don Young advertises that Mr. Hannan was registered as a Democrat, his campaign will be over," Moore said.

Two other candidates have registered with the state to compete in August's primary. There's Democrat Lynette Moreno-Hinz, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010 and for state House in 2012.

And John Cox, who took 14 percent running against Young in last year's Republican primary, is running again.

Alaska Rep. Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican who said earlier this year that he was pondering a challenge to Young, on Tuesday filed to run again for a state legislative seat.

Young remains well-positioned for re-election, with about $550,000 in his campaign account. Hannan hasn't created a federal committee yet, though he does have a website, HannanForHouse.com, which shows him in a tuxedo standing in front of the White House instead of the Capitol, where Congress meets. It's a mistake Hannan blamed on his web designer.

For now, Hannan is trying to boost his candidacy with pitches to newspapers and appearances on talk radio. He sprinkles his speech with references to prominent legal figures and scholars, and cites his friendships with intellectual "pillars" on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Politics, he said, is like marketing -- a job Hannan says he once held with the telecommunications company Sprint.

"I believe in this -- I believe in what I'm doing," Hannan said. "And when I believe in something, I can sell it better than just about anyone on earth. So, that's where my confidence stems from."

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