Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna To Challenge Don Young For The U.S. House, Anoints Geran Tarr As Her Suceessor In The State House

In an announcement that came out of nowhere, 70-year-old Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna, a member of the Anchorage Caucus who has represented District 22 (which becomes split between Districts 15 and 17 due to re-districting) as a Democrat in the state house since 1998, has expressed her intent to challenge Congressman Don Young for his U.S. House seat. She's also anointed 36-year-old community activist Geran Tarr as the successor to her state house seat; it would be Tarr's first attempt at elective office. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Tarr would focus her campaign for District 17, which includes the U-Med District around UAA and Providence Medical Center, on jobs for Alaska, but UAA and Providence actually lie within District 15. Update October 20th: Tarr is being opposed by Republican Cean Stevens.

At the moment, her big issue is TSA. She believes she needs to go to Washington to get TSA to change the way it does business. “I would have never expected that we would have a government program that touched children in highly inappropriate ways, touched elders with dementia and Alzheimer in highly inappropriate ways,” Cissna said. She added that changing the TSA needs to get done in Washington, D.C. Of course, Cissna, a breast cancer survivor who has had a double mastectomy, is personally involved; in 2011, when TSA tried to give her a patdown before boarding a flight in Seattle, she refused the search and ended up taking four days to get back to Juneau by way of ferry, rental car, small plane and taxi. Her principled stand earned her a hero's welcome from her fellow lawmakers, and she went to Washington D.C. to offer testimony about TSA abuse to a U.S. House subcommittee. Alaska Dispatch notes that Cissna's other areas of interest include deficit control, Arctic development and health-care reform; she would support modifying Obamacare.

Cissna is a left-of-center Democrat who votes reliably with the majority of Democrats in the state house. VoteSmart documents many of her key votes. While she voted in favor of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) in May 2007, she also voted in favor of limiting carbon dioxide emissions, voted against requiring parental consent for underage abortions in April 2008, and voted against expanding the Stand Your Ground law in April 2011. As expected, the Alaska Conservation Voters is one of her biggest fans, consistently giving her ratings of 80 percent or higher.

But the business community is not necessarily one of Cissna's biggest fans. In November 2011, a consortium of four Alaska business groups issued a report card on Alaska lawmakers to assist voters in judging how responsive the legislative and executive branches are to the needs of the business community, and Cissna only earned a letter grade of "D". This is partially offset by the fact that in 2005-6 and 2007-8, she received a 67 percent rating from the Alaska National Federation of Independent Business.

Personal Impressions: Since Sharon Cissna has been my representative since 1998, I have attended several constituent forums where she was present, and she is personable, intelligent, and well-informed. She always brings extensive written material to convey understanding on how the legislature works. There was one integrity issue; in March 2009, Cissna filed a disclosure statement showing only $8,538 income. Subsequently, she filed an amended statement showing income of an estimated $82,000. She had reportedly omitted her legislative compensation, which included per diem. A former opponent, Mark Fish, filed an APOC complaint against her, but nothing ever came of it. Cissna said she got in a rush and was distracted; considering that she did file an amended statement, this shouldn't be much of an issue. I know of no other integrity issues affecting her.

But electability is another issue. While Sharon Cissna's stand on TSA is principled and commendable, it's not enough to make me want to replace the old war horse Don Young. We still need Don Young's seniority, and his expertise at bringing home the bacon is unrivaled. Cissna's not cannon fodder, but she'll have to bring much more to the table than TSA in order to compete.

Afterthought: Casey Reynolds, editor of the conservative Northern Right, has an amusing take on Cissna's reluctance to fly. He writes in reference to Cissna, "I’ll show’em. I am going to run for statewide office in Alaska and not fly. No one has ever tried it. They’ll never see it coming. Ivan Moore gave me the idea and after his work on Paul Honeman’s campaign his opinion is GOLD!!!”

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