Democratic candidate Mary Peltola stops in Kodiak and discusses why she’s running for Congress

Democratic candidate for Congress Mary Peltola campaigned in Kodiak over the weekend, and spoke with KMXT’s Kirsten Dobroth (Photo courtesy Mary Peltola for Alaska).

Mary Peltola made a campaign stop in Kodiak over the weekend. Peltola is the Democratic candidate for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat previously held by Rep. Don Young; she finished in the top four of Alaska’s special primary in June. Peltola served in Alaska’s state legislature for a decade as Bethel’s representative and then as a Bethel City Councilmember. She’s led the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fish Commission as its executive director for the last five years. Peltola spoke to KMXT’s Kirsten Dobroth about why she’s running for Congress, abortion rights and her priorities if she wins the special election on August 16. 

KMXT will interview other congressional candidates when they campaign in Kodiak. You can find more information about the special election and the Congressional candidates here.

Listen to the interview here:

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This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Kirsten Dobroth: There were about four dozen candidates in the special primary earlier this year. For many voters, it was overwhelming – it was hard to understand where people were coming from or what they stood for. Now that you’re one of the three finalists in this last push of campaigning for the House seat, how are you introducing yourself to voters?

Mary Peltola:  Akallruunga, yupiugua Mamteriillermi. My name is Akalleq or Mary Peltola. I’m a Yup’ik Eskimo from Bethel. I’m from the Kuskokwim River, lifelong Alaskan. I’m the mom of four. I have three stepkids and two grandkids. I have a very vested interest in Alaska, as all Alaskans do. You know, after the dust settled a little bit on the surprise passing of Rep. Young, you know, it took me about a week to kind of process that. And, like 4, other Alaskans, I thought, ‘Well, there are a lot of issues that are very pressing to Alaskans and to Americans, and it just doesn’t feel like this is a time to sit it out.’ 

And really one of my big motivations for running for this seat is to elevate the issue of salmon abundance, or lack thereof, and the resulting food insecurity that we’re really seeing statewide as a result of low abundance. And that low abundance is seen throughout so many species and not just different salmon species, but we’ve got critically low abundance of caribou, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, many of our Alaskan species are in decline. And it is a very big concern for Alaskans across the state. On that issue alone, that was enough reason to run. Certainly there are many, many, many other issues that we’re facing as Alaskans and Americans, and I’m happy to be in the discussion.

KD: Are there any specific bills or pieces of legislation that are currently in [Washington] D.C. that you would support or start working to help advance if you were elected?

MP: Well, I’m very pleased to see the progress that was made last week in terms of the Inflation Reduction Act. Of course, I would want to codify protections for safe and legal abortion across the United States. I think that that’s an important thing. One of the concerns that I have is we are now seeing a Supreme Court that is taking a much different approach. They are more comfortable with overturning precedent, that is something very new. And this is the first time in my life that we’ve seen the Supreme Court take away freedoms and take away people’s rights.

KD: Would you support codifying and passing legislation to protect other rights, like gay marriage or access to contraceptives?

MP: Yes, I would support those, you know, codification of those rights. And I think protecting those rights is very much in keeping with what Alaskans want. Polls have shown that 60% to 65% of Alaskans are pro-choice. Alaskans very much prize their privacy and liberties and the decisions that the Supreme Court has made and the direction they’re going are very counter to how most Alaskans feel about privacy and freedom. I really just think that our elected officials should be more reflective of their citizenry.

KD: As Alaska moves into this next phase of representation after having Don Young as our congressman, for so long – you are running as a Democrat, you clearly bring your own priorities and issues and goals. But if you’re elected, are there any specific issues or legislation that the late Congressman Don Young championed that you would work to advance or that you would take up?

MP: Everyone has a story about how Don Young and his office helped them navigate the federal bureaucracy. My own family, we were a commercial fishing family. We had a south wind August storm hit our, the area of Alaska we were in and our boats sank, and with it, vacuum packing equipment and different kinds of expensive equipment. And we, the Internal Revenue Service expected proof of that. Well, you know, everybody in Alaska can recognize: how do you prove that your boat sank? It’s sitting on the bottom of the Bering Sea, and so, this is one example of Don Young and his staff really coming to the rescue with making it clear to the IRS that that was not a reasonable request. I would love to be the Congressman that people can call upon to help them navigate the federal bureaucracy. 

And I don’t have the kind of catalog memory of all the various pieces of legislation that Don Young passed, but certainly one of them was legislation that got the pipeline built. That was – talk about transformational. We had such vast resources when I was growing up, there was municipal assistance and revenue sharing. There was robust state spending and investing all because Don Young championed that one significant infrastructure project. 

And I see in the future, we’re going to have so many more projects that we need. Right now, I think some of our big infrastructure investment needs are internet throughout the state – reliable internet. Our ports and harbors are a critical piece of Alaska. Our airports; it’s just a never ending list because we’re such a new state and a young state and have such rough terrain. Infrastructure investment is going to be one of the top things for whoever wins this seat.

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