Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola has been reelected after winning Alaska’s lone House seat earlier this year in a special election after longtime Republican Rep. Don Young’s death. (Mark Thiessen / Associated Press)

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Mary Peltola, Alaska’s first Alaska-native Congress member

Mary Peltola is elected as Alaska's first Alaska-native Congress member, bringing more diverse representation to state politics.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/joshpakemail1101/" target="_self">Joshua Pak</a>

Joshua Pak

January 23, 2023
After the sudden death of Alaska’s Republican congressmen Don Young in March, Alaska extemporaneously held a special election that resulted in Mary Peltola, a Democrat, taking his spot. Since then she has retained her position after the November 8 mid-term election, which used Alaska’s newly introduced ranked-choice voting system. 

From winning that position, she has become the first Alaska Native and the first woman to represent Alaska in the House of Representatives since Alaska achieved statehood in 1959. 

During her campaign, Peltola presented herself as a moderate who was willing to work with both progressives and conservatives and ran on a platform of being “pro-fish, pro-family, and pro-freedom”. After taking office, Peltola hired Young’s former chief of staff, a lifelong Republican, to run her office.

What this means for Alaskans:

Peltola has maintained a focus on issues such as addressing the climate emergency and protecting access to abortions, while also supporting one of the largest proposed onshore oil and gas developments in the US, located on Alaska’s North Slope. Peltola has stated that she aims to balance the economic realities of Alaska, which is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry, with the need to address the climate crisis, particularly in the state’s vulnerable Arctic regions.

Peltola’s victory in the congressional election demonstrates her broad appeal across party lines, as well as the decline in the popularity of Republican Sarah Palin in Alaska. Peltola ran a largely positive campaign and received praise from Alaska Republicans, including Palin. Peltola won the election with 54.94% of the vote in the third round of counting, after two other candidates were eliminated.

As a congresswoman for Alaska, Peltola has vowed to work with anyone who is reasonable to find solutions to the state’s challenges. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Peltola and for Alaska, but her historic victory and commitment to bipartisanship give a reason for hope.

Since she entered Congress, she has introduced and sponsored legislation ranging from amending the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (H.R.9269) to establishing food security for all veterans at the federal level (H.R.8888). Continuing on her bipartisan approach, she has proven her clear goal in her position to be improving the livelihoods of all Alaskans, regardless of party lines. 

Don Young had passed as the longest-serving Republican in Congressional History and had built a legacy of bipartisanship and championed the interests of all Alaskans in Congress. As Peltola quotes, “Now, I’m a real congressman for all Alaska,” she seeks to continue Young’s long-forged legacy, even being endorsed by the daughters of the late Don Young.

However, although she promises to persist in Young’s policies and principles, giving a sense of continuity and connection, Peltola marks a new era in Alaskan politics. Her diverse background and commitment to addressing important issues facing the state present her as a trailblazer, potentially inspiring more diverse representation in our state’s politics.  

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