With the 2020 general election a year away, the race for House District 31 Representative has already started. On Thursday, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Kelly Cooper filed her letter of intent to run for the seat now held by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer.
Cooper, 58, has registered as undeclared, and said she hasn’t decided whether she will run in the Alaska Democratic Party primary or the general election as an independent candidate. Democratic Party rules allow candidates not registered for a political party to run in their primary elections. To keep her options open, Cooper has said she intends to run in the primary. Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board member Zen Kelly is her campaign treasurer, and Cooper said she already has volunteers signed up for her campaign.
Vance filed her letter of intent in August to run for re-election in the Republican Party primary. Filing a letter of intent to run for a seat allows candidates to begin fund raising.
Now in her second, 3-year term on the assembly, Cooper cannot run again under borough term-limit rules. Her term expires in October 2020. Cooper said she’s running for representative because of dissatisfaction with partisanship in the Alaska Legislature.
“After watching last year’s session I grew extremely frustrated,” she said. “I decided to run to reject the partisan dysfunction and instead carry forward the independent traditions of the Alaska I know and love.”
Former Rep. Paul Seaton, who served 16 years in the legislature before being defeated by Vance in his last run for re-election in 2018, said he has no intention of running again. Seaton had been elected as a Republican, but ran as a nonpartisan under the Democratic Party banner after the Republican Party establishment pulled its support for him because he had joined a bipartisan and independent caucus.
“I served 16 years and it’s time to have other people step up to the plate and have this representation in Juneau,” Seaton said. “Knowing Kelly and her background and her very good representation for the peninsula in the assembly, I would be very comfortable with her representing us in the legislature.”
A 17-year Alaska resident, Cooper has served on the assembly since 2014, representing District 8, the Homer and Kachemak City area of the southern Kenai Peninsula. Cooper got her start in local public service on the South Peninsula Hospital operating board. A widow who lost her husband, Jim, to pancreatic cancer, Cooper also has been active in awareness of pancreatic cancer, serving on the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and in Homer’s Relay for Life, part of a nationwide fund and awareness-raising effort sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Cooper owns Glacier View Cabins and Coop’s Coffee. During her time with the assembly, Cooper has served on the Borough’s Health Care Task Force, co-chaired a subcommittee creating the emergency services highway corridor service area in the Hope/Cooper Landing/Moose Pass district, served on the work group getting the Watermelon Trail rerouted and completed and made the Homer Annex available for telephonic testimony.
“I get comments from my constituents on a regular basis for being a voice of reason and voting for the issue and not on party lines,” she said. “… Given my history in the last six years on the assembly, my constituents both conservative and liberal will say I’ve been responsive to everyone.”
Cooper had been assembly president in 2016 and then was selected again for that role in October. Though technically nonpartisan, she said the assembly can be partisan at times, with a diverse group ranging from liberal to conservative.
“That body of eight members selected me to be their president,” she said. “I think that’s a signal we can be nonpartisan and get work done.”
Cooper said she sees several issues that will be important in the 2020 election: K-12 and university education, funding for the Alaska Marine Highway system and road maintenance, and funding public safety.
“I’ve always been an advocate for K-12 education as well as the university campuses here on the peninsula,” she said. “I continue to support forward-funding education.”
She also supports a path toward increasing state revenues, the Fair Share Act. If backers get enough signatures to put it on the ballot and it passes, the Fair Share Act would revise the tax structure for three North Slope legacy oil and gas fields, potentially raising $1.2 billion.
“I think the citizens all over Alaska have said we want these services and they’re important and we are going to help you find a funding source,” she said of the Fair Share Act.
A mother and grandmother, Cooper said through meeting youth in the businesses she runs and her own family, she feels “our youth don’t feel like they’re being heard,” she said.”They don’t feel like they’re being represented. I am a champion for the young people in our community. I have a lot of faith in their intelligence.”
The Homer News left phone and email messages with Vance seeking comment. She is out of state travelling and wasn’t available.