Southeast representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins announced in March that he would not seek reelection after serving for a decade in the state House. Two candidates so far have filed to fill that seat, representing Sitka, Petersburg, and Yakutat.
On April 27, KCAW’s Katherine Rose spoke with Rebecca Himschoot, a local educator and sitting Sitka Assembly member, to learn why she’s seeking a higher office. Listen here:
When I call Rebecca Himschoot, she’s on a 20 minute break at work. She’s an education specialist at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School in Sitka- she’s taught at the elementary school for 18 years, but has 30 total years in education under her belt.
“Over the years, I’ve followed what’s happening in Juneau and just kind of kept my head down and did the best I could for the 20 some kids in my classroom,” Himshoot says. “And now as a specialist, I have 35 kids on my caseload, and I’ve just always put an emphasis on making things work for them the best I could.”
“Over the years, I’ve noticed that there’s so much more that we could be doing and that we need to be doing,” she continues.
Himschoot has a predilection for public service. She was a page in her home state of Iowa’s House of Representatives, and watched her father make a bid for a seat. Then when she got to Sitka, over thirty years ago, she met Ben Grussendorf, an educator and one of the longest serving members of the Alaska House.
“He was a teacher, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to go into teaching, but I thought I was going to go into teaching,” Himschoot says. “And I was so impressed. And I was kind of mentored a little bit by Ben and he got me a position as a page in Juneau as well. So in a way, I’m kind of going full circle here, by wrapping back around.”
Her teaching has been recognized by the National Science Foundation with an Einstein Fellowship and in 2012, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science teaching.
Himshoot was appointed to the state’s board of education in 2016. And in October of 2020, she was elected to the Sitka Assembly.
During her tenure, she’s supported funding Sitka’s schools to the cap, or the maximum allowable by state law, and the community’s temporary mask mandate, which expired in March of this year. In 2021, she co-sponsored two new tax proposals- a marijuana tax to fund school activities and a fuel excise tax to fund repairs to roads and aging harbor infrastructure. Neither made it beyond the assembly table to the ballot for voters to weigh in.
She says her experience on the assembly prompted her to want to run for a seat on the legislature.
“I was compelled to run for assembly, I think, because I saw our community struggling, and I thought there’s more we could do. But what I have really enjoyed about the assembly is it’s sort of pragmatic problem solving,” Himschoot says. “We’re looking collectively at how to improve Sitka, and we aren’t really looking politically at how to improve Sitka.”
The assembly is a non-partisan body, but Himschoot says there’s still diversity of opinion on it, and even so, they manage to work together. The Independent candidate hopes to take some of that energy to Juneau with her.
“I think there’s just some really important issues that we need to be working on,” Himschoot says. “And I think if we can take the same model our assembly uses which is a productive, collaborative process, that’s going to really help how things get done in Juneau. Our problems are too big to bicker. We need to get to work.”
Himschoot has a lot of ideas for how she can better serve Sitkans and voters as a state representative. Through her lens of education, she wants to focus on improving the health and quality of life for families in Southeast.
“The thing that I know best is education. And so that’s something that I talk about a lot, but we need to protect our small boat fisheries,” Himschoot says. “I even see some potential solutions at the statewide level for municipal solid waste. It’s a huge issue, but it’s not just our community. This is a region-wide thing that we need to work on. Restoring ferry service that’s reliable…there’s a ton of stuff we need to do.”
“Again, when I talk about education, I’m talking about the health of the community,” Himschoot says. “Education isn’t just what happens in schools.”
Himschoot is running to represent what was once House District 35– after some redistricting last year, the new House District 2 now includes a longer swath of the outer-coast. It’s a big area to cover, but Himschoot says she’s ready to visit every community, from northernmost Yakutat, where she’s never visited, to Petersburg, which she says she’s fond of. She’ll be going to the Little Norway Festival for the first time this summer.
“There’s a lot of visiting some really interesting places ahead,” Himschoot says. “I feel like I really know Sitka’s issues at this point. The assembly has been super informative. But I want to hear about how other communities are doing in the region and find out what their issues are.”
Himschoot will be taking a leave of absence from her work at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary in the fall. Her plan is to visit every District 2 community twice before the election in November.
Editor’s Note: One other candidate has filed for the House District 2 seat- for the third time Kenny Karl Skaflestad, a Republican from Hoonah, has thrown his hat in the ring. KCAW will cover local and regional elections closely this summer and fall, with candidate interviews, detailed questionnaires about the issues, and candidate forums.