Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka this morning announced that she had resigned from state service in order to pursue a long-rumored run against Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2022.
Tshibaka, who was born and raised in Alaska, returned to the state in 2019 to join Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, replacing appointee Jonathan Quick, who was caught embellishing his resume with the Legislature. In her time here, she’s frequently found the spotlight, treated as a rising star by the Alaska Republican Party, while inflaming just about everyone else over a seeming knack for questionable contracts, attacks on unions, dismissing the concerns from rural Alaska over the implementation of REAL ID and pushing a widely panned plan to shutter several Department of Motor Vehicles offices to name a few.
In a statement reported on by the Associated Press, Tshibaka said she is running “for the Alaskans who believe government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The D.C. insiders need to be held accountable to us.”
Alaskans might have reason to be skeptical.
During a legislative hearing on her proposal to close DMV offices in Haines, Homer, Valdez, Tok, Delta Junction and Eagle River, she told the committee that those areas were selected because they were “lucrative” to private companies that charge as much as twice as much as the state for some services while not being able to provide others, requiring Alaskans to travel hundreds of miles. When asked at a March 4 hearing about why the state hadn’t proposed closing offices in larger cities, Tshibaka effectively said it’d be easier to force the closures on the smaller communities.
“This has been a pretty controversial proposal just in the magnitude that it is. I think it’d be pretty hard if we put a major city on here for anyone to take this as the innovative proposal that it is,” she said. “If you’d like us to come back and consider something larger, we’d be happy to introduce that to you.”
Reception to the plan has been frosty, with a House panel recently voting across party lines ax the entire proposal. Both Republicans and Democrats raised concerns that the “innovative proposal” would simply shift the costs to individuals while enriching a handful of private companies. Alaska DMV returns tens of millions of dollars to the state’s coffers and the plan would have saved just $500,000.
“I think we’ve heard clearly from the public that the savings this would have to the state would clearly be on the backs of our citizens,” Juneau Democratic Rep. Andi Story said during the hearing. “I think it’s not the right move to make to save some dollars.”
The 2022 election in Alaska will look significantly different than recent years. Thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2 in 2020, Alaska will move from semi-closed primaries to open primaries where the top four candidates advance to the general election. That general election will then be conducted with ranked choice voting, requiring the eventual winner has at least 50% of the support of Alaska voters.
Many see the new election system as a boon for the independent-minded Murkowski, who has stepped out of the good graces of the Alaska Republican Party for stymying extreme-right votes in Congress and for eventually casting a vote to impeach Trump over his role in the capitol insurrection.