Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
The extreme right gets its candidate for governor
With a glowing endorsement from none other than Joe Miller, Wasilla Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka has his sights set on Dunleavy.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: Rep. Christopher Kurka has entered the race for governor as an alternative to the underwhelming Gov. Mike Dunleavy. It’s an interesting development with some interesting players that speaks to the ongoing infighting within the Alaska Republican Party. A source I forgot to put in the last edition and an abbreviated reading list.
‘The man who promised to stand tall for Alaska chose to stand down.’
As the race for governor comes into focus, one of the big lingering questions is whether Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy would face a serious challenger to his right. While party heads may sound all-in on Dunleavy, cruise through the comment sections and you’ll see all isn’t well. There’s plenty of simmering conservative ire given the governor’s 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.
When Joe Miller—the Republican-turned-Libertarian also-ran U.S. Senate candidate—teased an “Announcement Regarding Alaska’s Governor Race” for this Monday morning, it piqued plenty of interest. Would the Scruffy One be throwing in? That sure would be interesting, but nope. It wasn’t meant to be. Instead, we got his endorsement of Wasilla Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka, a freshman legislator who could best be described as Rep. David Eastman’s Lackey (and who also now shares a district with Eastman thanks to redistricting), who would make official his entrance into the gubernatorial race later in the day.
The entrance of Kurka, in and of itself, isn’t all that interesting. What is interesting is seeing the criticism of Dunleavy through the far-right lens in the scathing (and conspiracy-tinged) assessments from Miller and Kurka in their announcements. Both go a long way to outline the conservative discontent with Dunleavy and, importantly, fit it into the larger narrative of conservative infighting.
“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 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.”
Miller’s deconstruction of Dunleavy is more thorough, casting Dunleavy as a conservative traitor who has abandoned the base on issues like election security, the permanent fund dividend and covid-19. He said he was once confident Dunleavy would take these key issues seriously only to see him abandoned them in favor of an unnamed cabal of “The Oligarchs” (a favorite term that gets sprinkled throughout).
“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.”
The video was laced with plenty of conspiracy theories, including a glancing suggestion that “The Oligarchs” have some kind of leverage over the governor.
“I mean, you look at who he hired. 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,” Miller said. “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. It’s time for a change.”
There’s plenty more to dissect in there, but we get the idea. The extreme right is none to pleased with Dunleavy’s performance since taking office in 2018 and is looking for an alternative of pretty much any kind. Kurka is far from a particularly inspiring candidate—and it’s hard to overlook the fact that he’d probably be running again if not for the Alaska Redistricting Board lumping him together with Eastman—but he’s got a reasonably strong line of attack here to go after Dunleavy as in the pocket of the ultra-rich… after all, look at all those questionable sole-sourced contracts.
RINO vs. True Conservatives
Importantly, it also taps into the intraparty fighting that has long been simmering with the Alaska Republican Party and conservative circles for much of the past decade. Miller has been the chief agitator, of course, with his upset of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010 and his fingers were all over the attempted takeover of the Alaska Republican Party 2012. There’s considerable bad blood here and it could spell trouble for Dunleavy, particularly when the Miller/Kurka pitch is one of uncompromising inflexibility in a year where ranked choice voting is going to be on the ballot.
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. It put many Republicans on the defensive, trying to prove their conservative credentials.
Kurka and fellow extreme-right Rep. David 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. 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.
In the last edition, I referenced a study linking covid-19 conspiracy theories to a whole host of negative outcomes over the pandemic but never linked to it. You can find the study here.
Speaking of all the sole-source contracts from the Dunleavy administration, Scott Kenall penned an exhaustive takedown of the adminsitration’s handling of public funds. From the ADN: Dunleavy’s corrupt misuse of public funds is rampant
The Anchorage Daily News’ editorial board came out guns blazing in a weekend piece that blasts Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s totalitarian impulses. From the ADN: The latest fight between the mayor and Assembly is about more than politics