Politics is what decides who gets what. Rural Alaska has been electing Democrats to represent them in the Alaska Legislature since before statehood but Rural Alaska remains 3rd World Status in the richest state (per capita) in the United States.
But along with Alaska summer activities and the whiff of salmon being smoked is the pungent smell of rural politics as the people again decide if they are satisfied with Democrats–who sometimes call themselves Independents–baiting in Bethel and switching in Juneau.
Voting data from the Alaska Division of Elections shows voters in rural Alaska have given up. Why bother to vote if the same members of the Democrat Cartel are going to always win? In the 2020 election 48.01% of registered voters (22,262) bothered to vote in Senate District T; Donald C. “Donny” Olson won over Thomas Baker 6,604 to 3,422.
50 percent of 10,447 registered voters in House District 37 bothered to vote in 2020, resulting in Bryce Edgmon being elected with 3,933 votes.
Why bother to vote for more of the same?
Tiffany Zulkoski was elected over Willy Keppel in House District 38 with 3,170 to 1,919 votes after only 44.45 percent (5,400) of the total 12,145 voters bothered to cast a ballot.
With 12,145 total registered voters in District 39, 6,011 (49.50%) voted to re-elect Neal W. Foster over Dan Holmes (3,623 to 1,044).
The rural economy and quality of life continue to decline as Democrat minorities create coalitions with pretend Republicans to maintain the status quo. Tremendous political pressure from individual Alaskans resulted in a $3,200 PFD this year.
In the upcoming election Senate District S candidate Willy Keppel says when elected he will work with whomever is the majority party in the Legislature to return prosperity instead of continuing to play political games in Juneau.
Willy Keppel has been bold in calling them out.
The system is rigged and people of Western Alaska are upset, according to Keppel.
We’re unhappy with Gov. Michael Dunleavy out here and he knows it, said Keppel. We understand the law about residency, and we don’t believe our senator lives in this district, but the Division of Elections is letting Lying Lyman Hoffman run again. He will be 40 years mis-representing Western Alaska if he is re-elected.
I talked to Gail Fenumiai (Director of Elections) after Hoffman filed his “Letter of Intent” to run again, Keppel continued. She said: “Nope, can’t file right now because he hasn’t actually filed for office it’s a Letter of Intent over at Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) now.
Agency Deferral creates Frustration
When Hoffman finally did file I told Director Fenumiai: “we want him investigated from one end to the other,” said KeppIe, and the easiest way to prove that he don’t live here is just to check his credit card receipts and his wife Lillian’s credit card and we’ll see where they spend their money every day.
“Oh, we can’t do that,” she said. So, I asked: “How about where his cars are licensed?” And if he has two different addresses it should disqualify him.”
We all expected the governor to do something about this because it isn’t right. We understand the law doesn’t actually define that once you’re elected that you can’t move out of your district, but the intent of the law is that you live in your district–not living in Fairbanks or the hillside in Anchorage.
Keppel continued: Three weeks later they determined that since they get their PFD in Bethel and that was all they needed to know. They did NO INVESTIGATION. The Division of Elections never investigated a thing. Plenty of people out here who have served in local elected office over the past 14-15 years–all Native lifelong citizens of Bethel–have witnessed the fact Hoffman doesn’t live here but the Lt. Governor and Gov. Dunleavy blew us off.
You look at Juneau and look at Lyman Hoffman, Brice Edgmon, Neal Foster and the others who have been there a while, explained Keppel. You can’t have somebody sitting down there in Juneau 20-30 years–because then you have no communication. Sen. Hoffman doesn’t care what we think; he thinks he doesn’t have to go out and mingle with the public. There’s no connectivity at the grocery store. He’s moved out of the district to go live on the hillside in Anchorage, bought a house there! Rep. Foster lives out in the MatSu Valley. They hide out. They don’t want to hear from constituents. They want to be around all of the shakers and movers that live in the Anchorage and MatSu Bowl–around all the lobbyists and the money. That’s how they maintain their control, buddy-buddy with the unions. buddy-buddy with the lobbyists.
They don’t care what we need out here.
Confidence in our Elected Officials is at Stake
I began bird-dogging corruption on the Bethel City Council since Hoffman was first on it, Keppel continued. I put my name on the ballot twice, first in the early 2000s. I did pretty doggone good, especially on the Alaska Peninsula. Next time I had a Republican challenger who ended up beating me by 17 votes in the primary. So actually, I ran against Lyman once and Norman ran against him the last time. Hoffman has not been challenged since that last time. I think that was 2006 maybe or 2004.
Does this suppress the rural vote?
It’s hugely important for Western Alaska to get these legislators back to where they belong and where they claim to live when they file for office, continued Keppel. Hoffman leaves here in September and never shows back up in the district for more than maybe a day–if there’s a board meeting he’s paid to attend over at his Bethel Native Corporation—he maybe shows up for a day, but his wife never shows up. He does Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s all in Anchorage because that’s where he lives.
Keppel hails from Quinhagak, which he describes as “one degree south of dew west from Anchorage, Alaska–400 and pretty much 50 miles on the coast of the Bering Sea. It’s a little Eskimo village. We have two rivers alongside of us. I live on the main Kanektok river that the village is also on. There’s maybe 650 people–I don’t really know if anybody REALLY knows what the number is–including three white guys that live in the village full time–of which I am one. It’s all subsistence lifestyle; everybody right now is busy catching fish; fish racks are full and smoking. King Salmon are in, and reds are starting to run real strong.
Keppel lost his partner of 30 years a year and a half ago. They had two children raised in the region.
The kids are all grown, said Keppel. One daughter is just headed to Togiak today for a second year of fish plant work. The eldest daughter–a stepdaughter to me–is married and has lived in Honolulu for years. She spent four years working for US senators in Washington DC. My son and his wife they got four kids that are in Anchorage. So, nobody’s in the village now ‘sept me.
For a long time, Hoffman and his cronies have been stealing the PFD and giving it to people that have nothing to do with our area whatsoever, declared Keppel. Rural Alaskans are depressed. I think they’re unhappy for a very good reason. It can change this year by getting rid of Hoffman in the Alaska Legislature.
Keppel continued: In District 38 over two-thirds of the people–of the 20,000 people supposed to be in it–live in villages. And the average income in in each village is like 20,000 bucks or so—it’s ridiculously low. The PFD is something that kept people lifted up, where they could hold their heads up, buy their machines–do their subsistence and a ton of different things–pay their bills. Before, people were just in a better mind frame. Now everybody is like: ”Wow, how are we getting by with gas where it’s at? The price of a loaf of bread is $10 now!”
This is Third-World Status
Besides theft of the statutory PFD rural Alaskans in this district are also suffering from dependency through programs started for one reason but now diverted to special interests.
The Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program was set up to better life in rural Alaska, building projects, putting in tank farms, replacing generators that aren’t fuel efficient–it was supposed to be going into villages to FIX THINGS, to make things better and more efficient, emphasized Keppel. Now that program is nothing but a government handout. Power companies like Alaska Village Electric Coop (AVEC), which is most of this area—whose job it is to produce our electricity—is now just a subsidy applied to every individual’s residential meter. They take that government money and hand it straight over to the fuel sales companies. It barely touches hands with AVEC or any other electric provider out here; the State of Alaska is subsidizing the higher cost for fuel instead of helping us become self-sufficient.
Short Summers to Prepare for Long Winters
A barge from Bethel takes a full 10 days to go to Nikiski and back, explained Keppel. Once that barge leaves Bethel it takes 10 days before it returns; one barge every 10 days IF the weather is good out there on the Bering Sea. If instead you dropped a pipeline–Cook Inlet is full of pipelines–from the refinery at Nikiski all the way to Dillingham, you could have that fuel there the same friggin day! A pipeline would eliminate eight days by going right to Dillingham. There would never be a barge in western Alaska going further south than Dillingham to refill for Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope or anywhere up there. Unfortunately, our status quo politicians have been co-opted–too busy creating dependency–and have no interest in making life better for the people out here.
A Region in Decline
There was a time when there was commercial fishing on the Kuskokwim, on the Yukon and fish plants on the coast; Kipnuk, Tuntunguak out at Mekoryuk–all over out here people were working. All that has gone away, said Keppel. Today with our political leaders everything is designed to stay the same and to be subsidized by government. They’re killing us out here. As long as you need them to supply whatever you need just to survive, they have the power over you. The last thing these politicians ever want is to see a healthy, vibrant economy like we used to have out here.
We need to cut our costs and make ourselves self-sufficient, said Keppel. And, while I am opposed to the big proposed mines, I do not see the resources in this area never being mined. Sooner or later, the corporations and the federal government are going to determine we must exploit what’s in western Alaska. Well, if they are going to do that why not have a railroad that goes across the Alaska Peninsula alongside Iliamna Lake, or even a road, so that everything that comes to western Alaska could come across on a landing barge from the Port of Alaska and in five hours be in Dillingham?
Keppel continued: Over the 36 years I’ve been out here, everything has changed. Now everybody is stuck having to wait on where am I going to find a job? How am I going to find a job? That’s what Brice Edgmon, Tiffiany Zulkosky and Lyman Hoffman have done—they want people dependent because that means they have control of the money that gets passed around out here–it pretty much guarantees that.
That’s where everything has malfunctioned, and it’s wrong. I am in a place in my life now where I can dedicate myself to making things better for the good people of this region, concluded Keppel. That’s why I am running.
Note to Readers: This writer sought out Willy Kempel for this story. As always I interviewed him on the record and developed the story from his statements. He said he did not like that story after admitting he had only read two paragraphs of it. I re-worked the story introduction.
This story is the result of a lot of effort and difficult communication lines between Eagle River and Quinhagak,.
I regret that Mr. Keppel apparently got cold feet when he saw what I wrote about what he said. Because I believe this is an important story for the people of Western Alaska, I am running it without Keppel’s blessing.
Voters will have to decide who best represents them in Juneau and this story is meant to be instructive in that process.
Stories I have written about other candidates:
Ken McCarty: Finding The Best Glidepath For Lawmaking
To be an effective legislator means using good arguments to present a bill–or to question a bill–whether to make an amendment or not make an amendment to bills. But in the end it has to do with relationships. I see in this building a lot of varied relationships.
1 thought on “Western Alaska Deserves Better in Juneau: Willy Keppel Says He Can Make a Difference”
Keep writing ✍, nice stories 👍