Retired teacher becomes lone Democrat in Alaska’s U.S. Senate election

Sixteen candidates have filed with the Alaska Division of Elections, and the deadline to enter is June 1

By: - May 11, 2022 7:20 pm
a crowd holding up Democratic campaign signs for Pat Chesbro

Pat Chesbro, a retired teacher and longtime Democratic activist, is seen Wednesday, May 11, 2022 as she registers for Alaska’s U.S. Senate election in this photo provided by her campaign. (Photo provided by Pat Chesbro’s campaign)

Pat Chesbro, a retired teacher and educator from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, entered Alaska’s U.S. Senate race on Wednesday, becoming the lone Democrat among 16 candidates for the office. The deadline to enter the race is June 1.

Chesbro replaces state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, who launched a campaign earlier this year but withdrew after financial support failed to materialize.

Though she’s a longtime Democrat with experience running for state office, Chesbro said her decision to run for U.S. Senate came about almost by accident when she started thinking about running for state Senate.

“The party chair was saying to the executive director, ‘Pat’s thinking about running for Senate.’ And she thought I meant U.S. Senate,” Chesbro said. “Well, because no Democrat at that point had filed … we started thinking about it, and I said, well, you know, why not?”

She made her decision official on Sunday and filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission and the Alaska Division of Elections on Wednesday after several days of organizing.

“I am excited to see a Democrat enter the race,” Gray-Jackson said of Chesbro.

Alaska Democrats have been openly divided about how much to support incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is seen as more moderate than her principal Republican challenger, former state Administration commissioner Kelly Tshibaka.

Asked about Democrats’ views, Chesbro said, “I do believe there are enough people out there who have faith in Democratic values that they want to have somebody they can vote for.”

As an example, she pointed to a Wednesday vote in the U.S. Senate that could have codified the right to an abortion. Murkowski voted “no,” though she has said she supports a right to legal abortion.

“If I had been in the Senate today, I would have voted with the Democrats to try to get that into law,” she said. “I would not have voted to approve (U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Amy Coney Barrett, who was put there, I think, especially because of her views on abortion.”

She said she expects abortion to be a major issue in her campaign, along with the war in Ukraine, inflation and immigration.

Chesbro, born in 1948 in Upstate New York, has lived in the Mat-Su Borough since 1974. Once a teacher at Palmer High School, she became principal of that school and superintendent, then joined the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she became the first department chair for the Department of Teaching and Learning. 

She married James Chesbro, who died in 2016. They had six children, of whom five are still living.

She has been active in Democratic politics for decades, running unsuccessfully for state House in 2006 and state Senate in 2014. 

In both campaigns, she supported strengthening the state education system and urged renewable energy development. She also supported the oil industry, saying in her official 2014 candidate statement that “more oil and gas production will create and sustain more jobs.”

Under Alaska’s new ranked-choice elections system, Chesbro and all other candidates will run against each other in the August primary. 

Voters will each pick one candidate, and the four candidates who get the most votes will advance to the November general election.

There, voters will be asked to rank the candidates in order of preference.

Chesbro said she believes ranked-choice voting will allow people to vote with their hearts, rather than for strategic reasons, and that will help her.

“This ranked-choice is going to make a big difference,” she said.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].