More money is going into the House District 34 campaign than any other race in Southeast.
Changing legislative boundaries combined Sitka with much of the old Southeast Islands House District. That’s the one that includes Haines, Craig, Metlakatla, Hoonah, Angoon, Kake and some other small cities.
State campaign finance reports show incumbent Haines Republican Representative Bill Thomas in the lead, with about $83,000 in contributions. That’s about 40 percent more than his Democratic opponent, Sitka’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
Together, they’ve raised around $130,000, making this the most expensive Southeast race. (Scroll down for links to recent campaign finance reports.)
Thomas lost Yakutat, Skagway and Cordova from his old district. But he gained Sitka, where half the new area’s constituents live, including his opponent.
He says that means a more expensive advertising campaign.
“You know, we didn’t lose any newspapers. We ended up gaining more newspapers and bigger towns and other things that we haven’t done before. So, it’s going to be spendy,” he says.
This is Kreiss-Tomkins’ first legislative race. So he also needs to raise a significant amount of money to make his presence known.
His approximately $48,000 campaign war chest is far behind Thomas’. But he says it’s not as large a gap as it seems.
“What you’re really seeing is the advantages of incumbency. And you can raise $40,000 before you have an opponent. And that’s the reason why there’s this cash discrepancy. If it started from June 1st, which is when we filed, we’d be up a few thousand,” he says.
Democratic Party organizations gave Kreiss-Tomkins $8,000. State employee unions, teachers and other political action committees contributed another $4,000.
Together, they add up to about a quarter of his overall campaign contributions.
Kreiss-Tomkins’ acknowledges he has less to spend in the House District 34 race. But he says his cadre of volunteers is giving him more bang for his buck.
“We have a grassroots-oriented campaign. It’s basically people talking with people, which we feel is also the kind of politics we believe in,” he says.
Kreiss-Tomkins points to a higher percentage of district contributions than Thomas, many of them relatively small.
The Democrat’s gotten money from the Southeast Alaska Seiners and the United Fishermen of Alaska. And he’s claimed more from individual commercial fishermen, since he filed.
Republican Thomas — a gillnetter, longliner and shrimper — disagrees.
“He claims he has more fish money. But then you look [and] … it’s been raised since [his] general campaign. And I’ve raised almost 11 grand from the fishermen over two years. But it depends on when you report it. He’s playing words pretty good,” he says.
Campaign finance reports from the full fund-raising season show Thomas with more donations from individual fishermen.
The Haines incumbent attracted more than $17,000 from his party’s and other groups’ political action committees. About a fifth of that came from the GOP. The rest included labor organizations, oil PACs, dentists, contractors and the hospitality industry.
Overall, PACs and the party contributed about 20 percent of Thomas’ campaign funds. That’s a larger total, but a smaller percentage, than Kreiss-Tomkins.
Those figures do not include executives or other employees of those groups or companies, so they could be larger.
Despite his incumbency and higher campaign war chest, Thomas thinks of himself as the underdog in the race. Among other things, he has knee problems that limit one-on-one campaigning, a major part of Kreiss-Tomkins’ strategy.
“He was able to bang on all the doors this summer because I was fishing and I don’t think he was working. [That’s a] big difference in lifestyles,” he says.
Kreiss-Tomkins say he did work, though he wasn’t paid, managing a pair of nonprofit programs that bring college students to Sitka to volunteer and share their skills.
As the campaign wraps up, Thomas says his main job is to convince voters of the power of incumbency. That includes his budget-writing duties as co-chairman of the House Finance Committee and his record of funding community projects.
Kreiss-Tomkins says he’ll bring a new approach to representing the new district, and will take different stands on education and other parts of the budget. And, he’s close to his goal of meeting the majority of its population.
“To be representative, I think it’s really important you know who you’re going to represent . And this door-to-door component of the campaign in every community, knocking on every door that’s possible, has been a central component of the campaign,” he says.
Thomas says he’s met with his district’s leaders and other constituents during his four terms in office. And he’s reached out to Sitkans during this campaign.
The most recent campaign reports, released earlier this month, show a significant part of the $130,000 or so Kreiss-Tomkins and Thomas raised was spent on travel, including room and board.
That total is more than double the funds raised in the southern Southeast House race, between Republican Peggy Wilson, Democrat Matt Olsen and independent Kyle Johansen.
It’s also almost a third more than the Senate District Q race, between Republican Bert Stedman and Democrat Albert Kookesh.
House District 34 Communities:
• Covenant Life
• Elfin Cove
• Game Creek
• Mosquito Lake
• Mud Bay
• Port Alexander
• Whitestone Logging Camp