In South Anchorage Assembly race, 2 self-styled conservatives and a policy wonk

The Assembly race in South Anchorage is shaping up as a debate over how Anchorage will develop in the future, with two candidates promoting their conservative views and the third focusing heavily on experience.

Mark Schimscheimer and Treg Taylor are both using the word "conservative" in their campaign materials in a signal to voters about their philosophies. But Taylor has drawn far more support from prominent conservatives than Schimscheimer, including former Anchorage mayors Dan Sullivan, Rick Mystrom and Tom Fink, whose endorsements he displays prominently on his campaign website.

Meanwhile, the third candidate, John Weddleton, says he's hoping to attract votes from his decades of involvement with city issues, not his political leanings.

Schimscheimer, 48, is a real estate investor and chair of a South Anchorage rural road service area board; Taylor, 39, works as an attorney for ASRC Energy Services, a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp; Weddleton, 57, owns Bosco's Comics in Spenard and served on the city Planning and Zoning Commission between 2008 and 2010.

The three candidates are seeking to replace three-term Assembly member Jennifer Johnston, who is barred by term limits from running again and has declared her candidacy for a vacant Alaska House seat.

Both Schimscheimer and Taylor entered the race after the exit of another self-described conservative, Joe Riggs. They've each put a substantial amount of their own money in the campaign: for Schimscheimer, $25,000, and for Taylor, $20,000. Weddleton has been raising money and campaigning since last fall, and raised more than $53,000, including $5,000 of his own money.

Facebook campaigning

Each of the candidates has put out quirky campaign promotions on Facebook.


Weddleton has played up his knowledge of the Anchorage Hillside with a series of Facebook posts that start out, "Where's John?" The campaign posted a photo of Weddleton while out door-knocking and asks supporters to guess which neighborhood it is.

"After a week or so visiting voters in Oceanview it's interesting to hit this neighborhood with new homes mixed in with homes from the original homesteaders," Weddleton wrote in the post. "There's well and septic homes mixed in with homes on city water and sewer. People living here really like it."

In another post, he wrote: "This neighborhood is a mix of homes built in the last 15 years with others just across the street more than 30 years old. One was moved here from Ship Creek 40 years ago."

Taylor released a campaign jingle that went roughly to the tune of The White Stripes' "We're Going To Be Friends." The song aimed to highlight the candidate and his conservative credentials -- and also get stuck in people's heads, Taylor said.

"Here's a guy with integrity, he's running for Assembly, he's fiscally conservative, his budget skills are impressive…" sings Taylor's friend while strumming a guitar. "I'm voting for this guy, his name is Treggggg."

Meanwhile, Schimscheimer posted on Facebook a campaign kick-off video that shows him rock-climbing on a cliff on the Seward Highway. The video was produced by Cale Green, an Anchorage political consultant who's also behind the well-viewed campaign videos of state Senate candidate Jeff Landfield.

"Anchorage needs a pro-business, fiscally conservative candidate who's got a good grip on the issues," Schimscheimer says in the video, while pulling himself up on the cliff wall.

Schimscheimer repeats the phrase "pro-business, fiscally-conservative candidate" three times in the video -- though his rivals are questioning those claims. At a recent forum, Weddleton -- who has owned Bosco's Comics since the late 1980s and serves on an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce committee -- asked Schimscheimer if he had a business license.

Schimscheimer said no, he didn't. But he said in an interview that he regularly makes financial and business decisions as an investor in real estate. He said that while he doesn't have employees, he signed dozens of agreements with contractors last year.

Experience on display at forum

Taylor, Weddleton and Schimscheimer faced off for the first time at a March 3 forum hosted by the Anchorage Hillside Home and Landowners Organization, or HALO. It was home turf for Weddleton, a past president of the organization's board.

In his introductory statements, Schimscheimer highlighted his experience working for the state of Alaska and his 16 years as a Hillside resident. He said he was concerned about property taxes and said the city should entirely scrap its troubled, over-budget software upgrade project, SAP, and find a different type of software to use.

Taylor, who gained attention as a candidate in his 2011 run for the Anchorage School Board, told the audience that he decided to run for the Assembly after others convinced him he'd be good for the job.

He said his top priority would be reversing an October change by the Assembly -- which in itself reversed a 2011 Assembly change -- that allowed the city to collect more in property taxes this year by changing the starting point for the calculation of the tax cap. He said cutting the city budget would be another goal.

"What we aren't hearing is serious talk about how Anchorage … can tighten its budget," Taylor said.

Weddleton, in his opening remarks, zeroed in quickly on his experience -- including his background with HALO.

"It's not true I'm running to get out of organizing this forum," Weddleton told the few dozen people who attended, flashing a sense of humor.

Weddleton said his top priorities as an Assemblyman -- which he said would happen "with the backdrop of being under the tax cap" -- would include money for the police department. He said he also wanted to work on the city's new land-use regulations, Title 21, as he has for the past 15 years.


Known for being a policy wonk, Weddleton looked shocked as he raised his hand to the question, "Have you read the Hillside District Plan?" (He later said he's been studying it over the past five years.)

Taylor acknowledged that he's not as into the details as Schimscheimer or Weddleton might be. But he said that's not his priority.

"I feel like the voter who I'm speaking to isn't into the minutiae," Taylor said. "They're looking for a candidate who has the values they have."

Conservative credentials

Taylor gained attention during his 2011 run against Gretchen Guess for the Anchorage School Board, where he got 40 percent of the vote to Guess' 47 percent.

Similar to his Assembly run, Taylor entered that race at the last minute after another conservative dropped out. In that election, Taylor decried the spending increases in the school district and called the administration "bloated," saying there wasn't enough accountability for tax dollars.

Taylor said in an interview that his goal in the Assembly race will be "identifying as the conservative candidate" to voters.

"In order to win South Anchorage, you usually have to lean conservative," Taylor said. The race is nonpartisan, but Taylor said his emphasis on philosophy indicates his values.

Schimscheimer filed fundraising paperwork for Assembly on Jan. 14. A day later, he switched his voter registration from Democrat to Republican.


Schimscheimer donated twice to President Barack Obama, $250 donations in 2008 and in 2012. Yet Schimscheimer is campaigning as a conservative.

"I guess I would question, why the conversion?" said former South Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Birch, who is supporting Taylor.

Schimscheimer said he switched because the Republican Party "is the party that matches me." He said he also donated to the Walker campaign in 2014, and would call himself a social libertarian. He said he was disillusioned with government after working more than 10 years with the state on economic development projects.

Weddleton has called himself "very independent" and isn't registered with a political party. He's received donations from prominent Democrats and the local police and fire unions, but also some Republicans, like Hugh Ashlock, owner of the Dimond Center mall.

Weddleton said the distinction between himself and his rivals is that he's talking about experience, not political leanings. His supporters, meanwhile, say he embodies a different kind of vision for Anchorage.

"I think John represents a vision of Anchorage beyond just trying to cut taxes or shrink government," said Nancy Pease, a former chair of the Rabbit Creek Community Council who served on the Planning and Zoning Commission with Weddleton.

Weddleton said he supports more involvement in local government, having been a board member of more than a half-dozen community councils over the years. He's been a vocal supporter of neighborhoods in battles over land-use regulations, often putting him at odds with developers who favored fewer regulations -- Taylor said the current regulations represent "government overreach."

Weddleton said he favors smaller government -- but he told a voter in a recent Facebook post that he's not anti-government, either. He also said the focus on party affiliations is beside the point.

"When people choose to support me I don't ask what party they are," Weddleton wrote. "I say, 'Thank you.' "

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.