It’s a three-way run in state House District 14 in Eagle River as a trio of conservatives with similar sounding stances on crime prevention and the plight of the PFD jockey in the Aug. Republican primary to replace Lora Reinbold - the two-term holder of that representative seat now seeking to win the state Senate seat being vacated by Anna MacKinnon.
Jamie Allard, a former member of the U.S. Army; Eugene Harnett, an App developer; and Kelly Merrick, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young, are the three candidates Republican District 14 voters will select from at the polling places in the upcoming primary.
Coffee shop talk around town is that Reinbold hand-picked Allard to be her successor.
Reinbold confirmed that as accurate in a text message to The Eagle stating, “Yes, I have endorsed Jamie Allard. With Jamie Allard’s military experience, great work ethic and principled positions, I trust she will represent the values of the Eagle River community with honor in the legislature and fight to protect and defend the Constitution.”
Several indicators pointed to Reinbold supporting Allard. According to the Juneau Empire and the Midnight Sun News, Reinbold was spotted with Allard at the division of elections office when Allard filed her candidacy. Records with the Alaska Public Offices Commission indicate Allard and Reinbold both filed on May 24, 2018. Allard is listed as a deputy treasurer with Reinbold’s Senate campaign.
Other Chugiak-Eagle River based politicos – including Dan Saddler who is leaving his long-time District 13 House seat also seeking MacKinnon’s Senate seat – have opted to remain neutral regarding any endorsement of current District 14 candidates.
“Got my own race to run,” Saddler said.
In the meantime, Merrick kicked her campaign in full gear hanging door flyers throughout District 14 a weekend ago and Harnett held an informal get together last Saturday morning at Jitters coffee shop.
Here’s an introduction to each of the candidates: As alphabetical decorum dictates, we will begin with Allard.
The first-time political candidate moved to Eagle River in 2010 while her husband, Dan, was still on active duty as an engineer/explosives expert with the U.S. Army.
“My second day here in Alaska I told my husband we were never leaving. Since then we have made Eagle River our forever home and I desire to serve the community so together we can restore the ‘Alaskan Dream,’” Allard said in an email answering questions sent to her from The Eagle.
Her version of that “Alaska Dream” includes rescuing the PFD, revitalizing the economy, restructuring the budget, reforming education and repealing SB 91.
In fact, she is adamant about that last item. It is a big part of what motivated the woman who said she never wanted to become a politician to become a candidate.
It revolves around the safety of her two middle school-age daughters.
“(They) can’t ride their bikes without supervision for fear of criminal activity,” Allard said.
She believes safety and security are the cornerstones of society, but that changes made by SB 91 have made Eagle River a less safe and secure community.
“It needs to be repealed in its entirety,” Allard said.
She believes the unique combination of her military career – she was honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Army – and her experience working in a civilian capacity for the U.S. Department of State provide her with the expertise to deal with local issues as they relate to global concerns.
Hers is a boot strap story.
Her father came to the United States from Chile at age 16. He became a citizen in 1962 and worked as a janitor while in college. His career culminated as the nuclear division director for General Electric in San Francisco, Calif. He died abruptly at age 33 when Allard was age six. Her mother couldn’t provide Allard with a college education. She joined the National Guard instead and became a flight records and aviation specialist. Two years later, she transferred to the regular Army as a transportation specialist. She left active duty when schedule demands between her deployments and her husband’s deployments became too much for their young family.
“I haven’t had the upbringing others may have had; I’ve worked hard to get where I am. Service to my country in the U.S. Army helped make me who I am today,” Allard said. “My desire to do the right thing for Eagle River and it citizens drives me to serve in the (state) House of Representatives.”
Allard believes having been a member of the military and having been a military spouse will help her connect with many of District 14’s residents where a high percentage of active duty and retired military members live.
“As a military spouse, I learned to adapt to the challenges of seeking employment with each new assignment. I’ve had my own small business, worked for Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration,” Allard said. She recently resigned from a Department of Defense human resources position to facilitate her run for District 14.
She endorses her predecessor, Reinbold, in latter’s race for the state Senate, stating that Reinbold has “represented the community of Eagle River with integrity, loyalty and with the core values of the Republican Party. She will be a great asset when elected to the Senate.”
Her candidacy follows in Reinbold’s balanced budget footsteps.
“Families have to do it,” Allard said in reference to making fiscal ends meet. “Our government should be held to an even higher financial standard with the tax payer money. We can’t spend money we don’t have. We need to have a common sense approach to balancing the budget. We can predict infrastructure improvement costs, emergency medical services costs, law enforcement costs, education costs and regulatory enforcement costs to prepare a constitutionalized budget.”
Harnett and his wife, Yoshi of 35 years, have lived in Eagle River since 1987 where the couple has raised five boys that are now ages 21 to 29. Their youngest son is currently on active duty in the United States Marine Corps.
Harnett said his campaign is about preserving the family values that are the hallmark of Eagle River. He believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman, he is pro-life, believes the state’s budget needs more cutting before the earnings from the PDF are tapped and is highly dissatisfied with the state’s current crime legislation, SB 91.
Noting the criminal justice reform that has occurred the past few years, Harnett said, “The system went through a reform but it has backfired. It has actually reduced the criminality of criminals.”
He ponders whether all of SB 91 should be repealed.
“There are a lot of items in there that need fixing,” Harnett said in a phone interview. “Yes, I would start over. It is hard to take separate ingredients from a chili.”
But first things first, Harnett said: The state’s budget and finances.
“I do see us in a better state than four years ago, and I would applaud those legislators who went through that most difficult and worst time to be in Juneau,” Harnett said. “But we cannot impose an income tax. We have to be careful about that. When the economy is already down, doing such will only hurt us more.”
Instead, Harnett believes more budget cutting is necessary.
It is a sentiment he shares with the legislator he hopes to succeed, Reinbold.
In fact, a year ago, Harnett was more involved in Reinbold’s inner circle.
So, was he bummed that she has not endorsed him?
Well, yes, he said, adding that if elected he won’t let that perhaps unintentional snub impact his ability to work with Reinbold should she win the Senate seat.
“We just didn’t get the chance to talk about my candidacy,” Harnett said, also adding that he remains supportive of Reinbold’s staunch stance on budgetary issues.
He admires her willingness to stand firmly behind her convictions, but also notes her approach has taken its toll on the cohesiveness of the area’s legislative delegation.
“I do tend to agree with almost everything that Lora Reinbold does in terms of issues,” Harnett said. “And I really feel as if I would be able to pick up where she has left off on some of those issues but at the same time, over the years, I have worked with many people that I have disagreed with and have been amicable with them to come to solutions. That is indeed my strong point.”
His name might not be on the lips of voters that don’t pay close attention to local politics, but the players in the Chugiak-Eagle River area know Harnett.
In 1987, he chaired the statewide Young Republicans Club and remained active in that group until aging out. In 1991, he chaired the Wise Use of Our Alaska Resources conference where he said he learned vast amounts regarding the state’s natural resources.
In 1996, he was the district chair and worked with state political legends, Sam Cotten, Rick Halford and Randy Phillips. From 2004 to 2008, he worked in Juneau with former legislators, Tom Anderson and Lesil McGuire.
Today he runs his mobile App development and internet marketing company, SMAKMobi, from his office in Eagle River.
In some respects, his story fits in to the Last Frontier’s Norman Rockwell category.
It was the natural beauty of Alaska’s landscape and the opportunity promised to a young man that drew him.
“I always had a dream to come North,” Harnett said. “The mountains and the adventure were very attractive to me, so I brought my new bride here in 1987 and we started our family here,” Harnett said. “I love this community and now that my boys are raised, I can think about running for state office and working toward preserving Eagle River’s family feel.”
She is another long-time Alaskan; she is a fourth generation having been raised in Juneau and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School.
Her most pressing issues are very similar to the other candidates: budget and crime. On the first issue, she does not see the state sitting in a better economic position as compared to two years ago.
Her business degree is from Gonzaga University in Washington State.
She returned to Alaska in 2002 and married Joey Merrick – the current business manager and secretary/treasurer for the Anchorage-based Laborers’ Local 341 and the secretary/treasurer for the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. His 2015 appointment made by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker expires on 9/13/2020.
Before the birth of her children, Hunter, age 12; Brody, age 11; and Roxie, age 8; Merrick worked as an aide to state’s longest-running federal representative: Rep. Don Young.
She has his official endorsement.
“Kelly Merrick is a spitfire, a fighter for our Alaska Republican values,” Young said. “I know she will be an effective advocate for Eagle River and strongly endorse her for her State House.”
On her decision to return to the political arena, Merrick said, “I made this decision because we need more courageous Republicans in Juneau. Eagle River deserves a strong, lifelong conservative to step up, so I did. Working as a legislative aide for Congressman Don Young at his district office has given me firsthand experience of the legislative process.
She said she cherished her time as a stay-home mother raising her children thru their formative, younger years and regularly volunteering at Homestead Elementary School and for the Eagle River Panthers (youth football and cheerleading) Association as well as managing the Alaska Blue Devils and Alaska Blades competitive hockey teams.
But she is ready to engage and said her time at home has prepared her for the drama in Juneau – including identify solutions to the state’s budget issues.
“The state's financial situation is just as concerning as it was two years ago, in my eyes. We have systemic spending issues and these temporary measures don't change the fact that we need to reduce barriers for responsible resource development,” Merrick said via email. “If we want a booming economy again, and a reduced unemployment rate, we're going to have to push harder to put more oil in the pipeline.”
Just as her opponents in the District 14 race indicate, Merrick too is concerned by crime.
“Obviously, the immediate priority is dealing with crime. We have many issues to solve as well, but if people aren't safe a lot of other considerations are secondary,” she said.
Merrick said that SB 54, which was passed in the 2018 legislative session, repealed only one-tenth of what needs to be repealed from SB 91. She thinks too many current legislators “think” that SB 91 is a good idea and that its repeal is unlikely unless a wave of new legislators are elected.
“This ultimately comes down to a question of whether we think the catch-and-release system for criminals is working,” Merrick said. “I say it’s not.”
Merrick too has a heart-string pulling story that has shaped her in to the woman she is today.
Her first campaign brochure highlights the fact that her birth mother was not the person whom raised her.
Merrick said the positive response thus far has been overwhelming; adding that for far too long adoption has been kept as a closed topic. She believes not sharing DNA has no relevance in defining what a family is.
“Rather than say I was ‘given up’ at birth, I prefer to say I was ‘given’ at birth to my ‘real’ family,” Merrick said. “Somewhere out there is a woman who gave me the most incredible gift. Although I will never get to thank her in person, I try to live my life in a way that honors her courageous decision.”
Going To the Polls
Unlike the just held municipal election featuring mail-in voting for the first time, the primary and the general election run by the state will be held at the traditional polling places. Voters will also be able to request absentee ballots as previously.
The winner of the District 14 Republican primary race goes on to face Joe Hackenmueller of Eagle River, the lone Democrat tossing his hat in the race for a second time, in the Nov. general election. In 2016, Hackenmueller challenged Reinbold but ultimately lost with Reinbold taking 58.5 percent of the vote to Hackenmueller’s 41 percent.
Hackenmueller moved to Eagle River in 1984 when he began a career with now defunct ARCO. He taught in the Anchorage School District from 1995 to 2016 and is now retired.
According to records with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Hackenmueller’s 2016 campaign spent $44,466.33 in support of his unsuccessful bid.
Reach Amy Armstrong via email at: email@example.com.