Former public radio executive Steve Lindbeck officially announced his candidacy Thursday for Alaska's sole congressional seat, hoping to unseat 43-year Rep. Don Young, a Republican.
Lindbeck, 61, will run on the Democratic ticket. After filing paperwork in Anchorage, he was planning campaign appearances in Fairbanks, Juneau, Bethel and Kodiak.
The "whirlwind" trip launching Lindbeck's campaign will be "very much a listening phase," Lindbeck said. "Every year people need to renew and refresh and listen and learn, and that's going to be the important part, certainly at the beginning of the campaign."
For now, "the issues are economy, economy and economy," Lindbeck said.
"We know that Alaska's economy is pretty seriously challenged, and that things are not working now. We need change. And we know that oil and gas is the mainstay, and will be the mainstay, for as long as we can see. But … we're going to have to diversify," in tourism, technology and research, for instance, he said.
When it comes to differentiating himself from Young, Lindbeck said he will focus on "a difference in style."
"I've been known for working with people to solve problems and make things better," Lindbeck said.
Lindbeck called Young's 43 years in Congress "remarkable" and suggested "we need to pay respect for that long public service."
"But the old way of doing things isn't working anymore. Congress is pretty notoriously dysfunctional. And one of the problems is the excess of partisanship there. And I would be much more open to approaching people and building partnerships with the federal government and with others to give common-sense solutions for Alaska," Lindbeck said.
Despite the state's tendency to vote for Republicans for national office, Lindbeck said he thinks he still has a chance running as a Democrat. Alaskans "are pretty open-minded. There's still a strong feeling across the board that we value our independence, and we work with each other across party lines, and I certainly want to emphasize that," Lindbeck said.
He noted the majority of Alaskans are not registered with any political party. Voting records show Lindbeck himself has previously been registered as "undeclared."
Taking on Young is no easy task. This will be the congressman's 23rd campaign cycle. The last time he drew less than 50 percent of the vote was in 1992, even with a consistent third-party presence in the race since that year.
"Congressman Young only got 51 percent last time around, which is, after 43 years in office, not exactly a strong showing," Lindbeck said in an interview.
In 2014, Young beat Democrat Forrest Dunbar by a 10-point margin. Dunbar's campaign was greatly outfunded by Young's.
Lindbeck, who sits on numerous nonprofit boards throughout Alaska, hopes to have better luck drawing the funds necessary to compete in the congressional campaign. "We're gonna find out," he said. Fundraising is "really a big burden and obligation on any candidate. You have to find the resources to get out and be competitive, and I will," he said.
Young, the longest-serving Republican in the House of Representatives, currently has about $600,000 in campaign funds on hand, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Election Commission.
Lindbeck has been considering a run for months, holding quiet conversations across Alaska and in Washington, D.C., about the viability of challenging Young, he said.
He has contacts at a wide swath of volunteer organizations in Alaska that he has worked with over the years, including the Anchorage Museum Association, the Alaska World Affairs Council, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Anchorage, United Way of Anchorage, the Anchorage Cultural Council, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Downtown Anchorage Rotary and Commonwealth North.
He retired as president and CEO of Alaska Public Media last year. Before that, Lindbeck headed the Alaska Humanities Forum, was a vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and spent many years working in the news business, including as an associate editor at the Anchorage Daily News and as sports editor at the Anchorage Times.
Lindbeck first moved to Alaska when he was 9 and his father was stationed by the military in Kodiak. He graduated from West Anchorage High School and earned a degree from Stanford University. He has been married to Patty Ginsburg since 1992.
So far, Lindbeck has taken on two campaign staffers: campaign manager Evan Brown and finance director Nathaniel Markowitz, he said.