Though midterm elections are months away, campaigning has already begun. Democrat Dimitri Shein of Anchorage is challenging Don Young for his seat in Congress. The 37-year-old father and business owner made a pit stop in Sitka while passing through Southeast.
Dimitri Shein got his start in life an ocean away from Alaska. He grew up in Russia, in the coastal city of Vladivostok. “It’s on the Russian far east. If Sarah Palin is looking from Alaska, she sees kind of my hometown. But it’s around Japan and North Korea,” said Shein with a laugh in a recent interview with KCAW.
His childhood unfolded around the fall of the Soviet Union. Shein’s bio on his website says, “Standing in a bread line was just quality time with my grandfather listening to his stories.”
“Things were scarce, but I think I was loved by my grandparents and my parents,” Shein said. “Things were good.”
His mother soon left with Shein in search of a better life. They immigrated to Anchorage in 1993. Shein made his way through the Anchorage public school system, meeting his wife in a high school gym glass, and made his living through entrepreneurship.
He trained as an accountant and began a freelance CPA business, balancing books around Alaska. Then, Shein began his own e-commerce company, Nice Planter, selling a collapsible planter box he invented. He got the idea from a Russian-style grill. “We were shipping a lot of air, so I thought if you broke it down and shipped it in a flat box, it would be an innovative cost-saving measure,” Shein said.
Shein deemed this event, like many others in his life, somewhat random — an instance of him seeing an opportunity and leaping for it. He felt a similar impulse after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, calling it “a low point in our history.”
“More people should be involved in our democracy because it doesn’t run on auto-pilot. I was thinking, ‘What is the best way for me to get involved?’ I thought running for Congress was within my reach. I thought I could bring new ideas to this race,” Shein said.
Among them? Expanding Medicare to all. Shein wants America to move towards a single-payer system, where the government is responsible for health care regardless of a person’s ability to pay. It’s the cornerstone of his platform. “My wife is Alaskan Native and all six of my children are Alaskan Native. I see that work every single day,” he said.
Shein’s children go to Southcentral Foundation, which offers care to Alaska Native families. His wife, Dr. Melissa Shein, is the medical director at one of their primary care clinics.
On the international sphere, Shein says he’d fully support the ongoing investigation into his home country’s interference with the 2016 election. Domestically, Shein is critical of Congress’s tax overhaul and current leadership. He had choice words for Alaska’s current Congressman Don Young, saying “I think we have to move on from his kind of thinking.” I ask him what that means.
“Basically, what [Young’s] been preaching for the past 40 years is that government can’t do anything right,” Shein said. “So we’re not able to address things like climate change, ocean acidification, our healthcare crisis, and the country is divided. I think government can actually solve problems. I think if you’re not in government to solve problems you should get out.”
Getting in is an uphill battle. Young is the longest serving member of the U.S. House, elected to office in 1967. Young is also being challenged this year by Independent Alyse Galvin of Anchorage.