There are two candidates running for District 38’s seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. We heard from incumbent Democrat Tiffany Zulkosky on Oct. 21. Veteran's Party Challenger Willy Keppel has declined to be interviewed on “Coffee at KYUK.” In order for voters to make an informed decision, KYUK’s Greg Kim has this story on Willy Keppel’s campaign message, along with information drawn from court records.
Willy Keppel, who lives in the coastal village of Quinhagak, is a voice many residents of the Y-K Delta can recognize. He is a well-known fixture on KYUK’s weekly call-in show “Talkline,” where for the last few months, he has been advertising his campaign message.
“I’m hardcore PFD. These guys we have representing us have stolen, before this year, over $120 million,” Keppel said during a Talkline show in August. “It's destroying the economy by stealing the PFDs.”
Keppel’s campaign focuses on two goals: increasing the payout of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend checks, and decreasing the cost of living in rural Alaska.
“I want to lower the water, sewer costs. I want to lower the cost of everything out here,” Keppel said.
Twice before, Keppel has tried to represent the Y-K Delta, running for the state Senate seat occupied by Sen. Lyman Hoffman in 2002 and 2006. Twice, the region has passed on him. In 2008, he was picked by a vote of straws to fill an open seat on the city council in Bethel. He said that as part of the planning commission, he was critical to securing the easement for the road to the ONC Subdivision that is currently being built.
“That wouldn't happen if I hadn't sat on the planning commission,” Keppel said.
He was not re-elected for the following term. Outside of his previous civic engagement, Keppel has a past that he himself characterizes as “wild.”
In 1998, four years before his first bid for state senate, Keppel pled no contest to a felony drug charge. Court records show that he tried to pick up a tote at the Bethel airport filled with about 10 pounds of marijuana.
Keppel said, “That's all ancient history. I got caught and I just pled no contest, stood up, took my licks and moved on. And I haven't smoked dope since.” In an interview regarding his court history, Keppel refused to be recorded.
He has also been the subject of at least four domestic violence restraining orders or other protective orders. In 2012, one woman told Bethel police that Keppel sexually assaulted her. Keppel said that he had sex with the woman, but that it was consensual. Bethel police reports show that the woman did not cooperate with officers during the investigation, and Keppel was not charged with a crime. A judge granted her a short-term protective order.
After living in Bethel for 27 years, Keppel said that he moved to Quinhagak about five years ago. There, he soon developed conflicts with residents and tribal organizations. A local woman filed a protective order against him as a result of a property dispute. In 2014, the Native Village of Kwinhagak’s tribal court temporarily banished him as a result. The banishment was rescinded after a year.
This past August, the Native Village of Kwinhagak Tribal Court issued a protective order for a different woman in the village who said that Keppel harassed and threatened her for decades. The order would last throughout the majority of Keppel’s term if he was elected.
Keppel said that all four womens’ claims against him are either false or a result of unpaid debts or property disputes. He denies ever committing an act of domestic violence, and court records show that Keppel has not been charged with any domestic violence crimes or sexual assault.
The village corporation tried to ban Keppel from its property as well, and took Keppel to court. The Qanirtuuq corporation wrote that Keppel harassed its employees and board members, and told the people of Quinhagak he was “not afraid to shoot anyone with a firearm.” Court records show that the two sides eventually settled the matter before trial.
Keppel claims his issues are behind him, saying “I used to be wild, there ain’t no doubt. But people do change.” He said that he gave up drinking almost entirely five years ago. He said, “In five years living, I’m pretty much a saint.”