In a field of 48 candidates running in the special election to fill out the late Congressman Don Young’s term, the challenge will be to stand out from the pack and be one of the final four selected. Some will run on name recognition, like former Gov. Sarah Palin and, well, Santa Claus. Others will work their political experience or endorsements. A few will amass big campaign chests.
And then there’s Gregg Brelsford.
Brelsford, 71, an independent, has been running 10 months, since July 4, 2021, when he announced his campaign. With Republicans Nick Begich III and Randy Purham, Democrat Christopher Constant, and Libertarian Chris Bye, he’s part of a small group who filed to run when Young still lived and dared to challenge the congressman of 49 years who never lost an election after he first was elected. Brelsford is running for both the regular, two-year seat as well as in the special election.
On June 11, voters will pick one of the 48 candidates in the special election primary. The top four advance to the ranked-choice voting for the special election, held on Aug. 16, the same day as the primary for the regular election. In the regular election primary, voters again select one candidate, with the top four advancing to the ranked choice general election in November.
Brelsford has a website, campaign buttons, a sign on his Subaru, and about $43,000 raised by his group, Alaskans for Gregg — far less than the $1 million Begich has raised. But he’s running a campaign in the tradition of citizen candidates who dream big with a vision of honest opinions and civic experience.
Last Friday, Brelsford visited the Homer News with his wife, Puyong, as part of a Kenai Peninsula campaign trip. He started his campaign in August 2021 with a booth at the Alaska State Fair — the only opportunity for any candidate in the 2022 election to meet the crowds before the Aug. 16 primary election. Brelsford touts his experience working in rural Alaska and in municipal government as setting him apart from the field.
“I’m trying to distinguish myself based on my independent identity,” he said. “… I’ve managed police departments. I’ve managed an aging wastewater system — managed docks and rural housing, right? No other candidate has that kind of package of experience to bring with him on the ground, being in the frying pan, dealing with real problems.”
Raised in Denver, Brelsford’s dad had moved to Anchorage to work on the Alaska Pipeline, and when Brelsford came up for Christmas, fell in love with Alaska. In 1972 he and his brother drove up to Alaska. Brelsford started working full time and taking classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in public administration. In 1973 he started working in Tyonek and later for Cook Inlet Region Inc., where he ran the historic sites and cemetery project to select lands for Alaska Native corporations under a provision of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
That Bush experience led to a career working with Native and tribal organizations. He was founding director of a health program for the Chugach Region that includes Port Graham, Nanwalek and Tatitlek. He served as CEO of the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleutian Housing Authority. In his early 30s, he shifted careers and went to Harvard Law School, earning a degree in business law with a speciality in intellectual property. He and Democratic candidate for governor Les Gara were in the same class at Harvard and both clerked for Alaska Supreme Court justices.
After 22 years as a lawyer, Brelsford returned to working in rural Alaska, as manager of the Bristol Bay Borough from 2018-20 and as interim city manager for Dillingham in 2021. In Bristol Bay, he also served as the COVID-19 incident commander and helped guide the fishing region through a commercial fishing season at the height of the pandemic.
Although running as an undeclared candidate, Brelsford ran in 1994 for the Alaska House in south Anchorage as a Republican, losing by 5% in the primary to Norman Rokeberg.
“We competed against each other as gentlemen,” Brelsford said. “… It wasn’t misleading about somebody’s record or anything, and nobody the day after the election, nobody did a Monday morning complaint, ‘Oh, the rules were unfair. … We shook hands and then I walked the district for him to help him beat the Democrats.”
Now, Brelsford said, the Republican Party has moved away from him.
“I think all Alaskans, most Alaskans are tired of extreme politics,” he said. “I’m a no-drama, battle tested, balancer of needs and rights. I mean, boy, you can’t run a city government without trying to balance.”
That’s his fundamental purpose in running, Brelsford said: “To try and find some common ground among all the positions, particularly the more diverse positions.”
On the issues, Brelsford’s stands include old-school Republican values: resource development, jobs, support for regular people and working families, support for strong public safety and law enforcement, support for the Second Amendment, and support for a strong military and national defense. But then he also supports the arts, affordable housing and affordable prescription drugs. He supports fully funding the police, but also said, “I do agree that the police need to be held accountable for misconduct.” He also said he could see social workers or psychologists playing a role in deescalating violent situations.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect the police to be able to do everything in every situation,” he said.
Brelsford said he wants to address the continuing challenge of climate change and to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. On Indigenous issues, he supports tribes in seeking “dignified sovereignty.” It’s not on his website at www.alaskansforgregg.com, but other issues Brelsford sees as important include MMIW, or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and homelessness.
In the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Brelsford supports making America energy independent and said Alaska could be a big player in that effort. He supports trade groups like the Resource Development Council. At the same time, he said development should be balanced with environmental and climate change concerns.
“I don’t think you see too many Republicans or conservatives adding the part about the environment and climate,” he said.
His campaign is based on four principles, Brelsford said: “Freedom, fairness, faith and family.”
“If I’m elected, those would be the principles that guide me,” he said.
He also has four other values: individual liberty, maximizing individual innovation and free market capitalism, and limited government to what’s efficient and necessary. Brelsford qualified that by saying that the free market isn’t always the answer. Brelsford wants an approach where the people and government work together to solve problems.
“I think Alaska and America have gotten off track,” he said. “Elected officials are spending more time fighting each other than they are working on the people’s business. I think our problems are too big and too serious to waste time with that kind of foolishness.”
“I’m intentionally approaching things with no drama — battle tested, balancer of needs and rights,” Brelsford said. “I think that’s what Alaska needs in Congress right now.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.