Two more jump into Alaska House Democratic primary

James Hart and Tom Morphet, both from Haines, make four-way contest for August election

James Hart and Tom Morphet are seen in courtesy photos. Hart is seen in a 2017 image provided by KHNS-FM radio in Haines. Morphet is seen in a headshot he provided on Tuesday. (Juneau Empire composite)

Two late entries in the race for Alaska House District 33 have made the contest one of the biggest in the state.

 

Just before Friday’s registration deadline, former Haines newspaper publisher Tom Morphet and Chilkoot Indian Association council member James Hart filed forms with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and the Alaska Division of Elections.

Their entry stretches the Aug. 21 Democratic primary to four candidates. The two previously registered candidates are retired teacher Sara Hannan and former Juneau Mountain Rescue official Steve Handy.

No other Democratic district primary has as many candidates, and only two Republican primaries (House Districts 9 and 23) have that many.

“It means I have a really competitive primary. There’s a four-way race just to get to be in the general,” Hannan said. “If you don’t make it through the primary, then there is no after the primary.”

House District 33, which includes Haines, Skagway, Excursion Inlet, Gustavus, Douglas and Juneau, is one of the most Democratic-heavy districts in the state, according to political party registration statistics recorded by the Division of Elections.

James Hart

Hart (Gooch Éesh, Raven Frog from the Sun House in Wrangell) was paddling in Tuesday’s canoe arrival ceremony opening Celebration and reached the Empire by phone from Lena Beach after his arrival.

Hart, 28, is an apprentice to carver Wayne Price and participates in the North Tide Canoe Kwaan in addition to his work with the Chilkoot Indian Association. He was born and raised in Southeast Alaska and has friends and family throughout the district, he said.

“I have strong ties to everywhere in the district. I’ve visited all these places,” he said.

In 2017, he was named an “emerging leader” by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and he served in the Legislature that year as a public policy fellow for Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

“I feel like it’s time to allow our next generation to have a voice at the table and learn from the generation previous to us,” he said. “I hope to inspire this generation and the generation behind me to start stepping up and lead in different capacities.”

Tom Morphet

Morphet, the voluble former editor, publisher and owner of the Chilkat Valley News newspaper, has served on Haines’ Assembly since 2016 and survived a recall effort last year. Proponents of the recall said Morphet and two other members of the Assembly violated the state’s Open Meetings Act and coerced a borough employee. According to petitioners, the three emailed each other about a pending vote. In the second allegation, recall petitioners said Morphet and Heather Lende (who writes obituaries for the newspaper and serves on the Assembly) improperly used their position by asking Haines’ police chief to resume releasing police blotter information to the newspaper.

Morphet has since sold the Chilkat Valley News, which continues under new ownership, and no charges were ever filed.

By phone Tuesday, Morphet said he is running because he doesn’t believe the state is living up to its obligations to its residents. He pointed to the recent closures of the Alaska State Troopers post in Haines and the public health office there.

“I think public safety and health are basic state obligations that the state is rightly obligated to fund, and I’ve just been disappointed. I think we’re being undersold by the state of Alaska and not investing in our communities the way we should,” he said.

He supports a payroll tax as a means to pay for needed services.

“I think Alaskans are willing to pay for things that improve their lives,” he said. “That might not be a popular message, but sometimes the medicine you need to take doesn’t taste good.”

He pointed out that Alaska could pay for basic services before the 1968 North Slope oil discovery, and it should be able to do so now.

“We had a functioning ferry system for 15 years before Prudhoe Bay. Why can’t we have those things?” he said.

While Morphet has lived in Haines for almost three decades, he also has ties to Juneau. He lived in Juneau and worked for the United Fishermen of Alaska here between 2001 and 2004. He arrived in Alaska to work on a cannery slime line after growing up in Pennsylvania and attending Marquette University.

Reaction and other races

“I don’t know much about them, but the more the merrier, I believe,” Handy said.

Hannan said the entry of two other candidates doesn’t change her campaign plans, “but it does squeeze the balloon.”

A fifth candidate, Chris Dimond, has filed as an independent for the general election and awaits the winner of the primary.

“I think it’s good we have a diverse group of people willing to jump in,” he said. “It’s good for people to have options.”

No new candidates entered the race for Mendenhall Valley’s House District 34 before Friday’s filing deadline, which leaves Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis running unopposed in the Republican primary. The Democratic primary will be contested between school board member Andi Story and Juneau Assembly member Rob Edwardson. Edwardson is running as an independent in the Democratic primary.

For Senate District Q, which covers both House districts, the primary election will be uneventful. Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl is running unopposed. There is no Republican candidate. In the general election, Kiehl will face independent candidate Don Etheridge.

Anyone who entered the race may withdraw their candidacy before July 2. The deadline to register to vote for the primary election is July 22. Early voting begins Aug. 6, and the primary election is Aug. 21.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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