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Peninsula residents join packed congressional race

Anne McCabe and Karyn Griffin are two of the candidates for the open U.S. House seat.
Courtesy photos
Courtesy photos
Anne McCabe and Karyn Griffin are two of the candidates for the open U.S. House seat.

Forty-eight. That’s how many Alaskans have their hats in the ring for the upcoming special election to replace former U.S. Congressman Don Young.

The deadline to file for office was Friday. And it was a mad dash until the last minute as candidates, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the North Pole’s Santa Claus, filed their paperwork with the state Division of Elections.

Also among the congressional hopefuls are three Kenai Peninsula residents. Anne McCabe and Karyn Griffin, of Soldotna, and Dennis Aguayo, of Nikiski, filed to run, all without formal party affiliation.

Anne McCabe, a former Soldotna educator, said she handed in her paperwork just a few minutes after Palin at the division’s Wasilla office Friday.

But her decision to run was hardly spur of the moment. McCabe said she had long considered running for Young’s seat when he was no longer in it.

“I’ve thought about it for a long time," she said. "And what really motivated me to run this year is how divided our country has become. And I’m really passionate about bringing people together to solve problems.”

McCabe grew up on farms in South Dakota and Palmer, where her family moved when she was 12 and where she’s temporarily living and working today. She has a degree in teaching from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

She’s primarily been on the Kenai Peninsula since 1990 and owns a home in Soldotna. She worked in various Kenai Peninsula Borough School District libraries and was the president of the district’s staff union between 2019 and 2021, leading the association through a potential strike and helping with negotiations during the district’s first cycle of interest-based bargaining. In her summers, McCabe works at Pacific Star Seafoods.

She said civic responsibility has always been important to her and is a throughline between her work with the district and her political ambitions.

“I’ve been involved in leadership positions since I was a teenager," McCabe said. "And it’s important to me that those who can step up, and those who are comfortable in leadership roles, step into those roles that help make this country and our state a better place.”

She said she filed as a nonpartisan candidate because she feels the two-party system is failing. She said she’d consider herself a moderate.

“I do believe in responsible development of our resources, including the opening of ANWR, protecting the rights of our individuals," she said. "I firmly believe that everyone should have access to basic healthcare, that an outstanding education should be a part of our American culture for every single person. And strongly, especially, [in light of] what is going on in Ukraine, a very strong military force, especially here in Alaska, that is present and strong and trained is absolutely crucial.”

She also has been a single parent for the last two decades and said her value of family is an important part of who she is.

Candidate Karyn Griffin is also running as an independent.

Griffin, of Soldotna, said she identifies as a progressive liberal. Her experience in Alaska politics is with the Gulf Coast Democrats, a group she helped form in 2015 after serving as a delegate for Bernie Sanders to the state convention.

But she said she’s been unaffiliated since former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson recommended the denial of the Recall Dunleavy effort in 2019.

“I decided that I was done with party politics and changed my voter registration back to undeclared," she said.

Griffin came up to Alaska in 2001 to work at Denali National Park. She’s been here ever since.

"This is home, baby," she said.

She was raising her family in the Anderson area, in the Denali Borough, until they moved to Soldotna in 2012.

She’s a stay-at-home mom and has been homeschooling her kids since the pandemic started. She said that allows her family to spend time outdoors as much as they can.

Griffin said she knows winning the seat is a longshot. She’s rooting for Santa Claus, herself.

But she said she finds the election process interesting and is curious to see how far a candidate can go without fundraising. She said money in politics is a huge problem.

“I believe in a well-funded education system," she said. "I believe that Medicare for all should be implemented, that people shouldn’t be bankrupt or one paycheck away from being bankrupt based on their medical situation.”

She also said she’s worried about the wealth gap in the country.

"I think there’s a huge discrepancy and I think that Congress has a way to impact that in a positive way," she said.

Instead of fundraising for a campaign, Griffin’s asking for donations to a different charity each week. This week’s charity is the Bread Line, an anti-hunger nonprofit in Fairbanks. Next week’s is the LeeShore Center, a Kenai organization that supports victims of domestic violence.

Also listed on the Division of Election website is Dennis Aguayo. Aguayo could not be reached by phone or email before airtime and there is no campaign website listed under his Nikiski mailing address.

The special election for the seat is June 11. It’s a by-mail primary.

All candidates vying for the open seat will appear on the ballot and voters will pick just one candidate.

The top four candidates from the primary will head to a special general election in August, which will be a ranked-choice race.

The election is to fill the remainder of Young’s term, until January 2023. There will be another election for the upcoming congressional term this fall.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.