Richard Wein (l.) will be the Republican challenger for the House 35 seat in the Alaska Legislature, held for the last 6 years by Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. (Emily Kwong/KCAW, Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A former surgeon in Sitka has won the Republican primary, and will challenge three-term Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins for the House District 35 seat in the Alaska Legislature this November.

Dr. Richard Wein edged out former Hoonah mayor Kenny “Karl” Skaflestad by less than 200 votes.

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Wein had been on the Sitka assembly for only a few months when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to House 35, representing Sitka, Petersburg, Hoonah, Angoon, Kake, Tenakee, Pelican, Elfin Cove, Port Alexander, Klawock, Kasaan, Thorne Bay, and Coffman Cove.
Travel is a huge part of serving District 35. Wein says he’s ready.

“During my career I had cared for people in virtually all of the communities that are represented by District 35, and I’ve never had the opportunity to go meet with them outside of Sitka,” said Wein. “And I’ve found the campaign to be a wonderful opportunity to not only get to see people that I’ve known, but also places that I’ve only heard about. It’s been eye-opening, an absolutely wonderful experience, and I’m happy now to have to repeat the process and go visit all these communities again.”

Unofficial election results put Wein (547) ahead of his opponent, former Hoonah Mayor Kenny “Karl” Skaflestad (367), by only 180 votes. Skaflestad was a regular visitor to Sitka during the primary race, but credits his strong showing to the fact that politics in such a large area is surprisingly personal.

“Like our state, we’re big in size, but pretty close in heart,” said Skaflestad. “And people get to know each other, and hear each other, and it doesn’t take a lot for the word to get out. I’m really grateful that the voters recognized that I was there to serve, and I think that’s part of the beauty of our region: Even though there are many miles between us, when we get on point we’re able to get together and make our feelings heard.”

Both Skaflestad and Wein thanked constituents for turning out for Tuesday’s vote.

But even combined, the two Republican contenders did not win as many votes as Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. The three-term incumbent from Sitka did not have a primary challenger, but it was important that Democrats have a strong showing. During the last legislative session, a bipartisan coalition of 17 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 1 Independent controlled the House.

Kreiss-Tomkins would like to see the bipartisan majority in place again for the next two years.

“I definitely am of the mind that bipartisan coalitions are the way to go,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “You’re governing from the middle. It prevents fringe politics from dominating the conversation, and forces people to work together. I think what we’ve had in the House the last two years has been really good for Alaska, in particular really good for coastal Alaska.”

As usual, Kreiss-Tomkins was on the move on primary election day. He spoke with KCAW as he was boarding a ferry in Juneau to attend a totem pole raising. He says that his campaign over the next two months will look a lot like this.

“The best reelection strategy is to do your job really well,” said Kreiss-Tomkins, laughing. “So I’ll continue to be doing my very best on that front as well.”

The 2018 Alaska General Election — also known nationally as the mid-term election — will be held on Tuesday, November 6.