Kurka’s challenge against Dunleavy is the latest in a long line of GOP infighting

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On Monday, the extreme right got its very own gubernatorial candidate in freshman Wasilla Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka. Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman, who’s a proud member of the anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers, Kurka is an extreme-right poster child.

He’s got conspiratorial ideas about covid-19, loves freedom and, perhaps most interestingly, is no fan of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the establishment that he apparently represents. There’s a clear effort here to tap into the conservative discontent with Dunleavy and the Republican establishment that has been simmering for the last decade.

Kurka’s announcement and the accompanying endorsement video from Republican-turned-Libertarian also-ran U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller (who’s been one of the lead agitators within the Alaska GOP) cast Dunleavy as a traitor to key issues for the extreme right. Miller, in particular, drags Dunleavy on issues like election security, his failure to deliver on his promise of a large PFD, his middle-of-the-road approach to pandemic (hands-off to liberals and tyrannical to the extreme right) and his pivot away from bone-deep cuts in light of the recall effort.

“What we have today in this state, I would argue, is a much worse situation than what we’ve had over the last ten years. Governor Dunleavy had lots of opportunities. He promised it was a top opportunity. I’m looking back on it and thinking it wasn’t much of a priority at all,” Miller said, referring to Dunleavy’s promises on election security before turning to the PFD, “We thought we had an ally in the governor’s office and turns out he’s pretty much adopted the Mark Begich plan on the PFD. Really regrettable. The budget, he’s waved the white flag on that.”

Kurka came in swinging, too, borrowing Dunleavy’s own sloganeering for his launch.

“While some politicians pontificate about standing tall for Alaska, what freedom-loving Alaskans really want is a governor who won’t play possum every time he sees a shadow,” Kurka said in his announcement, later adding, “Remember Dunleavy’s (covid-19) dictates were that marijuana shops were essential but houses of worship were not? To the governor in a state already staggering under alcohol and drug abuse, pot shops and liquor stores meant more than the church of God. … The man who promised to stand tall for Alaska chose to stand down.”

There’s a fair bit of conspiracy laced throughout both the announcements from Kurka and Miller, not least of which is Miller’s accusation that an unnamed cabal of “The Oligarchs” might have some kind of leverage over the governor and that’s why he’s abandoned the far right on everything from nonsensical claims about election security and working with the Democrats. While much of it might not land anywhere near factual, the message is clear: That Dunleavy, for whatever reason, has favored the wealthy over the average, everyday Alaskan.

“I mean, you look at who he hired,” Miller says in his video. “They’re a flag-carrying group of the Corrupt Bastards Club. I mean, I just don’t know how we get suckered into these things… or maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re electing people who are one of us, but they get corrupted once they get into office. Maybe they’re leveraged. I mean, we see that all the time. … They put the oligarchs in power—well, effectively, they’re behind the scenes controlling everything—and that seems to be the way this administration has turned out.”

Importantly, this kind of messaging taps into the intraparty fighting that has long been simmering within the Alaska Republican Party. While the party as a whole has been keen on booting out moderates who aren’t aligned with the Dunleavy agenda, it has also had its problems on the on the far-right end with the likes of Kurka, Eastman and Miller viewing the party’s core as not conservative enough.

Miller has been a central player in this effort with his upset win over U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary and his fingerprints were all over the attempted Tea Party takeover of the Alaska Republican Party 2012.

The infighting isn’t unfamiliar territory for Kurka, either. As the former director of the deeply conservative Alaska Right to Life, he set his sights on fellow Republicans viewed as not-conservative-enough when it comes to abortion. The group ran several ads and Facebook posts attacking several Republicans for not supporting some of the more extreme anti-abortion maneuvers put forward by Eastman. Eastman’s politics have proven to be so noxious that it’s frequently squelched the GOP’s hopes of regaining an all-Republican majority in the House.

Kurka and Eastman went to battle with Anchorage-area conservatives in the 2020 election with several Anchorage-area Republicans making the trip to the Mat-Su to door knock for Eastman’s moderate-by-comparison opponent Jesse Sumner in an attempt to shore up the right side of the Republican party. Another anti-abortion group endorsed Sumner, attacking Eastman as an ineffective policy maker.

Thanks to the latest round of redistricting, Kurka now shares a legislative district with Eastman. Ahead of the Alaska Redistricting Board’s approval of the final plan, Eastman accused the Republican-led mapping efforts as “The RINO Plan to Punish Conservative Legislators and Reward Republican Turncoats.”

And, if we’re keeping record, two of the three votes approving the Alaska Redistricting Board’s plan were appointed by Dunleavy.

Why it matters

In the big picture, it exposes a potentially critical weakness for Dunleavy heading into an election that will be conducted through a ranked choice voting system that does away with the semi-closed primary system. Instead, all candidates will run in an open primary with the top-four finishers advancing to the general election. The general election then will be conducted with ranked-choice voting where votes for losing candidates would be redistributed according to the second- and third-choice rankings… if those voters choose to make those rankings at all. Given that the Miller/Kurka pitch is one of uncompromising inflexibility, it could spell trouble for Dunleavy if Kurka makes it to the general election ballot.

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