Vying for a third term in the Alaska state house, Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) faces strong headwinds from a national Republican party chairman who has labeled her a “turncoat” and has vowed to support her opponent, Kodiak city councilor Richard Walker.
During an interview Monday, Stutes sidestepped party infighting and said her focus remains on voters.
“The people I’m concerned about supporting me are the members of the community that I represent,” she said. “I don’t represent the party.”
But Tuckerman Babcock, the chair of Alaska’s branch of the Republican National Committee, said he will try to prevent Stutes, a long-time Kodiak resident and former borough assembly member, from keeping the seat she’s held since 2015. Babcock has criticized Stutes and two other Republicans for caucusing with Democrats, helping form a majority coalition.
“You have stabbed your supporters in the back,” he wrote in an open letter to Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, Paul Seaton and Stutes in 2016. “Until we meet in the next election,” he wrote.
During an interview Monday, Babcock – an elected volunteer – suggested Stutes, like Rep. Seaton has done, change her party affiliation.
He said the organization would be offering full support to Walker.
“We will be 100 percent behind Rich Walker,” he said. “He’s the only Republican running, as far as we’re concerned.”
Walker, who’s spent six years on the Kodiak City Council and ran unsuccessfully for the House seat in 2014, said he was delighted to receive the support of the GOP.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see the Republicans come my way,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to run again, and the timing seemed right.”
In response to Babcock, Stutes said she has no intention of changing parties, and took issue with the suggestion.
“My basic philosophy and party politics are along the Republican line,” she said. “And I don’t take kindly to the Republican party saying to me, ‘You can’t be a Republican because you’re not doing what we say.’”
She said she joined the majority coalition after being elected two years ago in order to make headway on fiscal issues.
“I was in the Republican majority my first two years in,” she said. “We went exactly nowhere in relation to a sustainable fiscal plan.”
As a member of the coalition, she has supported cuts to oil subsidies and to government spending, which passed.
She also supported a broad-based tax that stalled in the Senate. Most Republicans do not currently support an income or other broad-based tax.
Stutes defended coalitions, rare in national U.S. politics but common in the Alaska Legislature, as offering an alternative to pure partisanship.
“People in a coalition are more willing to compromise than when you’re playing partisan politics,” she said.
It remains to be seen whether the loss of party support will have a major impact on the August primary election.
The Alaska GOP can give up to $10,000 in campaign contributions, has a database of thousands of registered Republican voters and a large donor network, Babcock said. Many donors “depend on us to give advice on who should receive a donation,” he said.
Babcock said he did not know whether the full $10,000 will be spent on the campaign.
“A lot of it will depend on what Walker wants, or asks us to do,” he said.
Last election, the GOP invested only $1,000 in the race, which they gave to Stutes.
They have since asked for the money back. Stutes declined, and instead gave a $1,000 donation to the Kodiak Salvation Army.