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Tiffany Zulkosky And Willy Keppel Running For State House Representative

Willy Keppel/Christine Trudeau

Two candidates have filed for the District 38 seat in the Alaska House of Representatives: incumbent Tiffany Zulkosky, and challenger Willy Keppel. Zulkosky, a Democrat, will be running in the primary. Keppel, from the Veteran’s Party, will need to gather signatures to appear in the general election.

Zulkosky has represented the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta for over two years. As the only Alaska Native woman in the state legislature, according to her website, she has chaired the Legislative Committee on Tribal Affairs and co-chaired the House Health and Social Services Committee. She also works as the communications director for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

“I am definitely a product of this region, and was born and raised here and have so many shared values of this place, and I feel so proud to call the Y-K Delta home,” Zulkosky said. “And I think it's important to return to Juneau so that our districts can continue to be part of a coalition that has been able to push back on the governor's budget reductions, but also to make sure that rural Alaska has a strong seat at the table.” 

Willy Keppel is a fishing and hunting guide in Quinhagak, where he’s lived for almost five years. He lived in Bethel for 27 years before that, where he also served on Bethel City Council for a year. While Keppel would be a newcomer to state politics, he has been an outspoken voice on KYUK’s Friday call-in show “Talkline” for years. 

Whereas Zulkosky believes solutions come from working together with other legislators, Keppel believes a dramatic shakeup is necessary in Juneau.

“This place needs to have someone that understands what's going on, and is willing to go fight, and will not ever join a coalition that forces you to vote,” Keppel said. “We need someone that's going to go down and stand up and fight for us. We don't need another 'yes' person. We've had that for too many years.”

Keppel also believes that the Y-K Delta should have a representative from the villages rather than from Bethel.

“There's more people on the Delta that live in villages than what lives in Bethel, and it’s time maybe they had a voice,” Keppel said.

Both candidates place a heavy emphasis on the state’s finances in their platforms. Zulkosky is proud of her role in having achieved some balance in the last year’s state budget. 

“On protecting funding for critical programs while also still paying a robust dividend,” Zulksoky said.

She says that programs like the Village Public Safety Officer program, Medicaid, and Power Cost Equalization are vital to bush Alaska. And although she says that she will continue to work to preserve those, she says that the state’s budget issues are getting harder.

“There are no easy choices to the state's budget problems. It's just, at this point, very, very difficult choices,” Zulkosky said. “And so I don't think that the state is at a point where we're cutting through, you know, just the fat in a budget anymore.” 

Challenger Willy Keppel disagrees.

“There's a lot of fat,” Keppel said. “They've spent a record budget this year. They've taken $8 billion from the people's portion of the PFD and moved it over to where they claim they're saving it. Saving it for what? A rainy day?”

Keppel says that the state could save money by consolidating the universities, and make money by increasing taxes for mining companies. Zulkosky says that she’s having conversations about a broad-based tax like an income tax, and about reevaluating the state’s oil tax structure.  

Aside from the budget, Zulkosky says that what’s important to her is elevating the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, increasing funding for public safety and water and sewer projects in rural Alaska, creating and sustaining local jobs in the region, protecting the environment, and strengthening education.

Keppel agrees with several of Zulkosky’s priorities. He also wants to improve public safety in the region, and remove the need for honey buckets with piped water and sewer. He also wants the state to assert more control over the extraction of natural resources.

The primary election will be on August 18, and Tiffany Zulkosky’s name is the only one on the ballot. If she beats any potential write-in candidate, she will advance to the general election. Because Willy Keppel is running as a Veteran’s Party candidate, he will need to obtain 53 signatures before August 13, according to Alaska Division of Elections clerk Rae Mills. If Keppel gathers the necessary signatures, he will advance directly to the general election on November 3.


Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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