A classroom dominated by bad fluorescent lighting, with a laptop with a live stream on the table. Black reading glasses on the nose, the permanent subdued smile on the lips. While reading the voting results, Mary Peltola does not seem to fully realize her victory at first. It’s only when her humble campaign team starts to howl and her husband stands up for a hug that her characteristic smile turns into a big smile. “I need to catch my breath,” she tells the reporter present. “It also takes some getting used to, all those microphones around me.”
An underdog’s victory is rarely better captured than in the Alaskan newspaper’s video Anchorage Daily News published Wednesday evening.
Peltola originally wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but now she will be the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives on behalf of Alaska. She is also the first Democrat in 50 years and the first Alaskan Native ever to do so.
Not a millionaire
Mary Peltola grew up in rural Alaska, on the Kuskokwim River in the native american Joepik community, a population of about 34,000 people. She is a mother of four and grandmother of two at the age of 49.
Elections for a new Alaskan Congressman were called in when Don Young, 88, passed away after nearly 50 years of service. This Republican Congressman was loved all over Alaska, including indigenous groups, because he always managed to get enough money from the federal government for conservation.
Peltola, who served in Alaska’s sub-parliament from 1999 to 2009, was not a favorite. When Sarah Palin ran as a candidate, everyone assumed she would return to national politics. Palin had been governor of Alaska, was the landmark in 2008 runner up of presidential candidate John McCain and became one of the most perverted celebrities in the world Saturday Night Live.
But fame became Palin’s downfall. Alaskans blamed her for retiring as governor in 2009 to become a political commentator Fox News to become. Peltola was able to position herself against Palin as the humble, ‘ordinary’ Alaskan. Palin owns a $2.5 million mansion in Arizona and has spent much of her campaigning in TV studios outside Alaska. Peltola still lives in the small town of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. “I am not a millionaire or an international celebrity,” Peltola said several times during the campaign.
She also benefited from Alaska’s new electoral system, in which candidates run independently in multiple rounds rather than having to win the primary within their party. In the penultimate round, 60 percent of Alaskans voted for Republican candidates Palin and Nick Begich, but in the final round with Palin, Peltola took 51.5 percent of the vote.
Palin’s defeat is in fact also a defeat for Donald Trump, who expressed his emphatic support for the Republican. The other Republican candidate, Begich, on the other hand, did not want to give up, so they were constantly at each other’s hair. “I don’t even know who this one dude is, where does he come from?” Palin said about her party colleague. Painful, because Begich’s father was Don Young’s immediate predecessor as an Alaskan Congressman until 1972.
It was difficult for Palin to play hard against Peltola. The two know each other well from the days when Palin was governor and Peltola was an Alaskan parliamentarian. The two had regular friendly text messages during the campaign. Typical is an election debate a few weeks ago, when Peltola received a question about infrastructure projects but Palin took the floor. Instead of talking through her, Peltola kept smiling, lowered her microphone and gave Palin an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “See how nice she is?” Palin said. “That’s how it should always be in politics.”
Peltola, like most Democrats, is in favor of abortion rights, environmental protection and greater gun control, as well as more military presence in Alaska due to Russian threat. Above all, she wants to distinguish herself as a coalition builder. “Alaska faces serious problems such as severe inflation and environmental pollution. We must move forward together,” she said after her election on Wednesday. As a member of parliament, she has already managed to bring together parliamentarians from both parties, local administrators and representatives of indigenous communities to make agreements about nature conservation. “Just put dried fish with crackers (an Alaskan snack) on the table and everyone will come,” Peltola said.
In November, citizens of all US states will go to the polls to elect their representative, including in Alaska. Again Peltola then takes on Palin and Begich. This time she will be the favorite.
3x Mary Peltola
One of 48 candidates in the primaries was a local administrator with a long gray beard who had his name officially changed to Santa Claus. “At first, journalists were just asking about him,” Peltola said with a laugh on Wednesday.
During their time together as governor and parliamentarian respectively in Alaska, Palin and Peltola became pregnant at the same time. They exchanged tips on how to combine pregnancy and motherhood with their busy jobs and got to know each other well.
Peltola is except pro choice also pronounced pro fish. Born on a river, she has been fighting overfishing and the conservation of salmon and herring since her student days.