June 1, 2022
Updated June 16, 2022
It is telling how democracies work when elections are called with short notice and are open to everyone. While gazing at 48 candidates is overwhelming, it is also refreshing.
I recently received my mail-in ballot for the special election to fill the vacancy for Alaska’s Congressional seat. To better inform folks outside of Alaska, our only Congressman, Don Young, passed away on March 18th, 2022. This special election is open to anyone. There is no party primary election. The result was 48 people filing for the post.
As I gazed across this list, my first instinct was to see who I recognized on the list. This is, unfortunately, how a lot of Americans vote. They don’t bury themselves in the news, read uncounted articles or analyze specific issues. So name recognition has always been an important factor in a political race. I would not call myself intensely aware of Alaskan politics. I am rather well-informed, but I don’t routinely read Alaskan newspapers. I do not have access to broadcast TV. What I pick up about politics is through the Internet and personal interaction.
The use of the Internet really came into its own with the election of Barrack Obama in 2008. He captivated the younger voters because he understood how they communicated. It was indeed ironic that it would be Donald Trump who would game the system in 2016. Since then it is pretty much a given in politics that if you are invisible on the web, you are invisible in politics.
So when I looked over the list, I realized I had some work to do. I wanted to be fair to myself and to the public by seriously looking into where each of these candidates stood on the issues. As an IT writer I was also curious about how I was to learn about these candidates. I did what millions of Americans do these days. I opened up my browser and searched. Yes, that’s right. I looked up all 48 candidates! And what I discovered I recorded to a spreadsheet and posted it to my web site.
If you want to run for office, first evaluate your ability to communicate.
Search Method – Using Duck-Duck-Go, which derives its search database from Microsoft’s Bing. Search string used was the “<Candidate’s Name> Alaska Congress”
Simply put, reviewed the initial listing of matches. Probed no further except one additional page for any social media sites that may have come up.
Of the 48 candidates, only 27 had a listing for a website or related social media site.
Sign of no campaign? -- Ballotpedia is top listed, which is the curse-of-death for on-line communication. It signifies that your presence is chiefly in an on-line database. Personally, I found Ballotpedia a lot of ground clutter. Beyond basic filing information, it appears to offer nothing meaningful.
For non-Alaskans, they may find this a bit interesting: the role of public media in Alaska. It is vital and frequently appears in the top three listings. This is a unique aspect of communication in Alaska. Public TV and public radio play an important role in getting information out. Commercial news media is primarily centered along the “rail belt”, a corridor of communities that stretch between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Given that the size of the state covers 1/3 of the continental land mass of the lower 48, there is a lot of empty space filled by public media services.
Role of Legacy Media? In Alaska, that would be the Anchorage Daily News. It is indeed unfortunate that the Juneau Empire is hitched to a subscription algorithm which bumps you from the site after reading three articles. As a result, it never showed up in the search results. That leaves ADN and the Fairbanks News Miner. The Fairbanks newspaper showed up occasionally within the first page of search results.
I narrowed my search to only candidates who had a website. One listed Facebook, 2 were on LinkedIn, 1 had a Wordpress site and 1 featured YouTube. But one thing is certain about all those sites: they are quite clumsy at presenting the vital information you need to communicate in a political campaign. A website is crucial to win a campaign. The website can serve as a portal by which an interested person can connect with the candidate. Websites are information-driven. Social media platforms are attention-driven.
A website also indicates an important element. The candidate has an Internet “domain.” The candidate has registered and paid for a name to their website. That is important because I noticed a few candidates had used web services to post their pages such as Google. While these may be fine for setting up a personal web page, it is a disaster when it comes to search engines. When I search for a candidate, I utilize a database that has been compiled by Bing (Microsoft). That database is compiled from routine scans of the Internet and the important thing they correlate are domains and key words. Your web page buried under Google or WordPress is not going to show up as well as a domain-named website.
As noted above, having a web page provides the candidate an opportunity to connect with followers on multiple social media platforms. The data shows that almost every candidate with a web page exploited this opportunity, listing links on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Gab, and numerous other sites. If you are running for office and do not use any of these platforms, you are in the wrong business. You only have to look at Donald Trump and his use of Twitter to appreciate how valuable a social media platform can be. One big advantage of messaging platforms like Twitter, Parler or Gab is to encourage the news media and interest groups to follow your account. This will streamline any announcements you make.
Name Easy to Remember? -- Previously, I noted how my first instinct was to see if I recognized any of the names. Time was that having a name that can be easily remembered was a good thing. But Lord have mercy if your name is Robert Brown or Ernest Thomas. Getting your name to stand out in web searches is pretty tough.
For non-Alaskans, there are a few pointers to better understanding our politics. First, notice the roster of parties represented on the ballot:
1 American Independent
1 Alaska Independent Party
In general, “Non-Partisan” and “None” is Alaskan for Left-leaning. Democrats have had a tough time in Alaska mainly due to the baggage they have to carry from the national party. So running as “Non-Partisan or “None” is one way to carve out their own space. Almost everyone is “pro-development” and “pro-infrastructure” and “pro-energy,” a far cry from the platform of the national party.
“Native” issues pop up frequently. Native Americans make up 15% of the population. But in land area they represent more than 50% because many live in remote villages. They also do not live on reservations, but remain connected to their ancestral lands (by ancestral, I mean 10,000 years!). So native issues are an important element of Alaskan politics. One issue that occasionally comes up is “subsistence,” which are rights that protect the native way of life in hunting and fishing. Subsistence is also critical for surviving and affordably living in remote areas. Native organizations are integrated into the economy, particularly in regards to mining, energy, and fishing. Any successful candidate will do well to communicate with the native community.
Santa Claus, from North Pole, Alaska, is a real guy. Sounds funny, but he has served as mayor and is actively engaged in his community. He represents the fun side of politics up here.
Candidates have often gained votes because of who they are associated with or endorsed by. That will forever remain an important element in politics. But I was looking for how the candidates stood on the issues, not whose hand they were shaking.
For that reason I am most curious how well Joshua Revak will perform in this campaign. Endorsed by the Young family and well-connected into the Republican Party, he seems a natural as a contender. But his website is almost totally bereft of any issues.
Honorable mention could go to John Coghill. His stance on issues was very general. He is a well-known politician in Alaska. Same applies to Tara Sweeney who had little to say on the issues, but presented her resume of her experience managing campaigns of prominent Republicans.
Alaska’s primary in August will be most interesting to watch. It will be the first major election in Alaska involving ranking. So don’t be surprised if this list of 48 contributes a couple dozen names to the August ballot. One candidate clearly stated on his web site that he was running for both elections (John Coghill). My guess, there are several who are doing this realizing that this special election will provide valuable name exposure, connections with interest groups and sources for funds.
So, in some respects, this special election is the primary for the primary.
Just for clarification, the top four finishers will be running against one another as a "general election" at the same time as the August primary. Sounds rather confusing, but the winner of the top four finishers will finish out the term until January 2023. Many of the same people will be running in the primary to fill the seat for the next two years. The Alaska Division of Elections currently shows 31 candidates. Unfortunately, Santa Claus is not one of them apparently due to scheduling conflicts in December.
I have never used a spreadsheet before to figure out who to vote for!
Stay tuned – I will be presenting the pivotal issue on which I will make my vote.
A peculiar election. Ever walked out into the wilderness and get struck at how quiet it is? You hear no birds, only a gentle breeze in the trees. That happens often in Alaska. This election is sort of like that. You would think with 48 candidates Alaskans would be getting pounded with ads. Maybe some of the folks who have cable TV are seeing some ads, but folks like me have not seen a single advertisement. It is, in some sense, the ideal election. The only impression I am getting is what I read about the issues.
The election is relatively quiet because it was sudden and called with short notice. Don Young was an immovable icon up here and there was little in the wind regarding opposition to his upcoming campaign. So everyone started from scratch.
It is telling how democracies work when elections are called with short notice and are open to everyone. It is a far cry from the short list we usually see in primaries, and the mere two or three options we see in general elections. While gazing at 48 candidates is overwhelming, it is also refreshing. There are a lot of interesting people out there, and some are highly capable and have something to offer to the public square.
Feel free to download the spreadsheet and review my findings. There is a column for issues, so you can quickly see what each candidate featured. There is a website listing for those candidates who had one.
By Eric Niewoehner
© Copyright 2022 to Eric Niewoehner.
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