Correction: This story has been corrected to note that Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Alaska, faces no opposition for the Republican Party nomination for House District 31. John Cox of Anchor Point is running for the Republican Party nomination for Alaska Senate, District P, against incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.
In the midst of a pandemic that has limited public gatherings, independent candidate for House District 31 Kelly Cooper and her campaign manager Amy Woodruff came up with a novel solution: Hold an event from a boat in Kachemak Bay where supporters could cheer her on from kayaks, fishing boats, pleasure craft and from the shore. “Rally on the Bay,” Cooper called it.
“I can’t think of a better place to kick off our campaign,” Cooper said out on the water. “I know what this bay means to so many of you. It’s your livelihood. It’s your backyard. It feeds your family. We are so lucky to have these incredible natural resources at our fingertips.”
On a sunny afternoon by the Deep Water Dock at the Homer Harbor, about 50 people equally spread out in boats or on the shore to hear former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Mako Haggerty introduce Cooper, who is the current president of the assembly, and listen to her make her pitch for why they should elect her over incumbent Rep. Sarah Vance. Vance will run again as a Republican, but so far has no opposition for the party nomination.
When Cooper announced her candidacy last November, she said she would run as a non-partisan, but left the options open of seeking the Democratic Party nomination or running as an independent in the general election. Democratic Party rules allow non-partisan candidates to run under its standard, as former Rep. Paul Seaton did when he lost re-election to Vance in 2018. Woodruff confirmed that Cooper will run as an independent in the general election, pointing to the word “independent” on a Cooper campaign sign.
About 25 people listened on shore — most of them wearing face masks — while an equal number were spread out in boats, including four kayaks. Cooper spoke from the stern of the F/V Sea Nymph accompanied by her children and grandchildren.
“It’s interesting times,” Haggerty said. “I think we know why we have to keep our society running.”
Haggerty spoke of Cooper’s experience on the South Peninsula Hospital Board and her two terms on the borough assembly, including her current service as president. Because of term limits, Cooper cannot run for re-election to the assembly.
“(Cooper) knows how to take charge,” he said. “She’s not about herself. She’s not a cult of personality. She’ a public servant. She’s awesome. I know she’s the right person to have on the lower peninsula — and the upper peninsula, too.”
An 18-year Alaska resident, Cooper, 58, has served on the assembly since 2014, representing District 8, the Homer and Kachemak City areas of the southern Kenai Peninsula. A widow who lost her husband, Jim, to pancreatic cancer, Cooper also has been active in spreading 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 — accomplishments she mentioned in her speech.
“My work has always been about the same things,” Cooper said. “People. Relationships. Being a member of this fabulous community and willing to help wherever needed.”
That’s why she’s running for a seat in the House, Cooper said.
“It’s always been about community,” she said. “Alaska has been so good to me and I want to continue to give back. I want to work for each and every one of you. This is a critical time for our state and Alaskans as we face massive budget deficits, cuts to state services and a shrinking PFD.”
Cooper said she puts people before party and rejects partisan politics.
“When you refuse to listen to people who disagree with you, you miss out on so much wisdom and experience,” she said. “When you are one of 40 representatives and it’s your way or the highway, you’re not getting very far.”
After speaking about what she has done as borough assembly member, Cooper said she wants to accomplish one more thing: getting a CARES Act grant to pay for a study to expand Homer’s harbor.
“The issues Alaska is facing are complex, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” Cooper said. “I’m proud of the relationships I’ve developed over the years. As we tackle these issues, you need a representative that is known for collaborating … You know me. I listen and do the hard work. As your representative, I’ll only have to ask for your vote every two years, but I’ll earn it every day.”