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Alaska lawmaker McGuire says she won't seek re-election

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an influential, longtime Republican state legislator, announced Monday that she would not seek re-election to the Midtown and South Anchorage seat she has held since 2007.

McGuire, 44, first publicly announced her decision Monday while speaking at the Institute of the North's Arctic Energy Summit in Fairbanks. The summit combined two of her favorite policy concerns -- the North and energy production.

The lawmaker, first elected to statewide office when she was 29, said her decision came down to family.

"Now it's time for me to create a healthy equilibrium between my family and my work life," she wrote in a text message. "Therefore, I will not be seeking another term in the Alaska Senate."

McGuire is pulling out of an expanding race for Senate District L, which encompasses parts of Midtown and the South Anchorage neighborhoods of Oceanview and Bayshore.

In a text message Monday, McGuire wrote that she would support Natasha Von Imhof, a Republican former Anchorage School Board member and financial analyst who plans to announce a run for the Senate seat on Tuesday.

"Part of my hesitance in leaving has been in making sure my district that I grew up in and have made my life and family (in) will be well represented," she wrote. "With Natasha it will."

On Monday, Von Imhof said McGuire is a longtime friend whose service she appreciated, but she had been planning to run for the seat for two years.

"The events that have occurred in the last month or more have no bearing on my decision to run for state Senate," she said. "I appreciate her endorsement. But we have more than one of us running for this seat. This is no guarantee, and I will work my tail off to earn the votes."

Jeff Landfield, a candidate who had announced tea party connections when he challenged McGuire in the 2012 election, also has plans to run as a Republican, this time without the tea party.

The candidate said he was unsurprised by McGuire's announcement.

"We have some very serious philosophical disagreements about how to run a campaign and a Senate office and how to be a politician, but I'm not going to discount what she's done for the state," he said.

Landfield said he knew for about a year that Von Imhof would be a candidate. He said he would now focus his attention on beating her in the Republican primary.

"One down, one to go," he said.

Forrest McDonald, a 28-year-old University of Alaska Anchorage student, has said he will run for the seat as a Democrat.

McGuire was first elected to the Legislature in 2000, when she defeated anti-corruption advocate Ray Metcalfe to win a seat in the state House. She went on to win election to the Alaska Senate in 2006, rising to chair several influential committees including the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In 2014, she ran for lieutenant governor but dropped out of the race, saying she needed to spend more time with her children.

McGuire developed a reputation as a champion of energy and the Arctic, as well as an outspoken voice on women's issues -- an area where she often differed from others in her party. McGuire was outspoken in her desire to expand oil and gas exploration and production in Cook Inlet, where Anchorage gets most of its natural gas. And during discussions on modifying Alaska's oil production tax, she opposed Democratic proposals that would have made it difficult for Prudhoe Bay producers to get tax benefits without greatly expanding production.

"She was never afraid to let you know how she felt," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat who has worked with McGuire for nine years. "She was never afraid to buck the leadership."

McGuire sometimes used unorthodox methods to accomplish what she wanted, legislators said.

"I was often amazed at the things she was able to get done," Wielechowski said.

Recently, she had raised eyebrows when she used her position as the chair of the judiciary committee to attempt to subpoena the Department of Corrections for a video of alleged abuse and neglect of a prisoner whose family her current husband, Jason Skala, had represented as an attorney. McGuire said the abuse was so horrific that the public needed to know about it, but the subpoena was rejected by Senate President Kevin Meyer.

At times, episodes in her personal life ended up in the glare of the public spotlight.

In one memorable 2004 incident, McGuire and her then-husband, Tom Anderson, at the time also a state representative, called Juneau police after a drunken argument over bowling scores escalated into a shoving match.

Anderson, an Anchorage Republican, later served a five-year sentence on bribery, conspiracy and money laundering charges related to a corruption scandal involving a private prison company seeking a state contract.

McGuire was never implicated in the scandal and divorced Anderson in 2010.

Last summer, a "social media war" between McGuire and her Republican challenger Landfield involving accusations of bad behavior at a barbecue and leaked photos began to foment on Facebook, ending up in the news.

In recent weeks, McGuire's office had been in the spotlight because of two staffers the senator said used her signature without permission to authorize a $6,500 state-paid trip to Seattle for a legislative conference. The staffers ultimately reimbursed the state for some of the costs.

McGuire's political legacy will go beyond such incidents, Wielechowski said.

"I don't think that's how she'll be remembered in the Legislature," he said. "I think she'll be remembered as someone who felt very passionately about the Arctic, energy, women's issues."

She was also a vestige of a less hyper-partisan era of Alaska politics, he said.

"She was not afraid to cross party lines," he said. "That's the thing we're going to miss about Lesil. That's a dying breed."

In another text message Monday, McGuire signaled that very bipartisanship when she listed four women legislators -- two Republicans, two Democrats, one each from the Senate and the House -- who she hoped would continue to work for gender pay equity and affordable and reliable childcare while attacking sexual assaults and suicide.

"I am counting on Mia (Costello), Charisse (Millett), Berta (Gardner) and Geran (Tarr)," McGuire wrote.

Outwardly, McGuire's decision to not run represented an about-face for the legislator, who told Alaska Dispatch News in July that she was "leaning toward" seeking reelection in 2016.

"I'm still hard at work and right in the middle of many critical issues that I've become a central player in, on the Arctic and energy," she said at the time.

But on Monday, she wrote of feeling pulled to family responsibilities.

"My father, a champion of me always, now needs more of me as his health challenges him," she wrote. "My son Grayson, who was born in my sixth year in office, has never known a day in his life without having to share his mom."

McGuire's father is Dr. David McGuire, for years a politically active orthopedic surgeon in Anchorage.

McGuire said Monday she has "no idea" what she'll do outside the job as elected official she's held for 15 years.

"I love you Alaska, and I'll leave a sandwich on the counter," she wrote.

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