JUNEAU — Anchorage Rep. Sharon Cissna, a Democrat, announced Wednesday in Juneau that she’ll be challenging longtime U.S. Republican Rep. Don Young in his latest bid for re-election.
Cissna has represented Anchorage in the Legislature for 14 years and was a legislative aide before that. But her main claim to fame these days is from standing up to what she considered overly intrusive Transportation Security Administration searches.
Republicans in the Legislature crossed party lines to support Cissna, who just turned 70, as she refused the search and made the lengthy commute back to Juneau, finally arriving in the capital by ferry.
Cissna said her campaign would be about “what Congress is not doing, what our congressman, our sole congressman, is doing, or not doing, and that’s holding TSA accountable,” she said.
That’s not the only issue, she said, but it’s an example of how she wants to make government work better for citizens.
“We’ve gone in a real bad direction away from our Constitution,” she said.
Young’s campaign spokesman Luke Miller on Wednesday said Young was ready for Cissna.
“He welcomes Representative Cissna to the race and is looking forward to the campaign season,” said Miller, spokesman for Alaskans for Don Young.
Young has fended off challengers for decades, and is ready for one more term, and possibly another after that, he said recently on a visit to Juneau.
“Congressman Young was humbled by the tremendous support he received during the last election and believes he still has the fire to fight for Alaskans,” Miller said.
Cissna said she’s been traveling around Alaska in the last few years, and wants to bring what she’s learned to Congress.
“We’ve got to work harder for our people, and we’ve got to understand them better,” she said.
“I’ve gone to 66 communities now, trying to average 2-3 days in each community, to get an idea of who they are and what they are facing,” she said.
Cissna said she lived in Anchorage for some time, but has spent a year in Fairbanks and six years in Kodiak,” she said.
Her time in the Legislature has also given her strong ties to people in Juneau, she said.
“It totals about six years, if you add up the years,” she said.
Cissna said her trip, and time as an elected representative, will allow her to represent Alaskans well in Washington, D.C. she said.
“I’ve been able to see what’s happening across the state,” she said.
Part of her village visits came from a 3 1/2 week trip by canoe down the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, starting in Manley Hot Springs all the way down to Kaltag.
“That’s the way to arrive in communities, just my husband and I, and what it means is people aren’t intimidated by you,” she said.
Among the communities she visited was Fort Yukon, Young’s home town, with an invitation to see the new clinic there. She said she was able to drive to Circle, and the village sent a boat there to pick her up.
“It was a very workaholic town,” she said. “It was very busy, it was early in the summer and everybody was getting ready to go out and do the things she had to do.”
She said she was particularly impressed with how the local village Native corporation was bringing young people back to the community.
One area where Cissna and Young are likely to have different focus is on opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.
Cissna said she wants private industry, not the state and congressional delegation, taking the lead on that issue.
“The oil companies have been steadily pulling out of either lobbying or putting money into it,” she said.
She said that, and her job in the North Slope’s fledgling oil industry led her to doubt just what the value of ANWR was.
“I wonder where those oil companies are, why aren’t they wanting that,” she said.
Cissna’s congressional campaign will have to be able to challenge Young without as much money, she acknowledged.
“I think my campaign is not going to be the same as other people’s,” she said.
But Cissna promised she’d be able to raise enough money to be competitive.
“Am I a good fundraiser? Yes I am,” she said.