America’s farthest-north state representative is planning to leave the Alaska Capitol
Rep. Josiah Patkotak says he’s running to be the next mayor of the North Slope Borough in an Oct. 3 local election
Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiagvik, demonstrates the fur hood of his coat while serving as speaker pro tempore of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at the Alaska Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Independent Rep. Josiah Patkotak of Utqiagvik is running to become the next mayor of the North Slope Borough and said he’s prepared to resign his seat in the Alaska Legislature if he wins the October municipal election.
Paktotak’s decision was made public via a Monday filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The municipal election is Oct. 3, shortly before an expected special legislative session on a long-term state plan to balance state spending and revenue.
If Patkotak leaves the Legislature, Gov. Mike Dunleavy would select his replacement, subject to confirmation by the predominantly Republican House majority caucus.
Patkotak, talking by cellphone from a goose-hunting trip in his home district, said that with current Mayor Harry Brower Jr. facing term limits that prevent another run, he’s interested in returning to municipal office. Patkotak served on the North Slope Borough Assembly before running for state office in 2020. He won re-election unopposed last year.
“I just figured I’d throw my name in the hat for the opportunity to serve in that capacity, thinking that I can really get some stuff done at the local level,” he said of the mayorship. “That’s where I want to provide the leadership for the next — at least — three years with the mayoral term, if that’s what the folks decide.”
Patkotak said the opportunity to spend 12 months at home was a major attraction, and he feels he can “get more done from the administrative level” at the borough by being home to direct infrastructure work.
The North Slope Borough, home to vast oil fields, has an operating budget of over $300 million, and the borough mayor has significant control over how and where that money is spent. The mayor’s salary, $265,000, is more than twice the amount paid to state legislators in salary and per diem.
During the just-completed legislative session, Patkotak — an Iñupiaq leader whose name in the language is Aullaqsruaq — took an extended absence from the Capitol to lead a successful whaling crew.
Patkotak and several of his colleagues said he has been considering his options for several months. Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, sits next to Patkotak on the House floor and said his colleague’s decision wasn’t a surprise, but that he will be sorely missed in the Legislature.
“Josiah is not only a colleague to me but is a friend and brother,” Cronk said. “He is as real a human as there is and no one is a bigger advocate for his people, their culture and subsistence ways of life. Rural Alaska is where his heart is, right after God.”
Rep. CJ McCormick, D-Bethel and a first-year legislator, said it was “a privilege” to serve alongside Patkotak in the Bush Caucus, a group of rural legislators.
“I learned a lot from him in the short year we served together,” McCormick said.
Patkotak’s seat in the Capitol won’t be vacant until (and if) he wins the mayor’s seat. State law would then allow Dunleavy 30 days to name a replacement. Normally, a replacement must be of the same political party as the departing legislator, but because Patkotak is an independent, the governor may select “any qualified person” in the district.
The replacement must be confirmed by the other members of the departing legislator’s caucus in the Legislature.
Christopher Clark, a legislative historian and aide to Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said that after consulting legislative records, he was unable to find an instance since statehood when a governor was asked to fill a seat formerly held by an independent.
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and Patkotak’s colleague in the Bush Caucus and the House majority, said by text message that “it will be interesting to see how (Patkotak’s departure) changes the dynamic of the House.”
He noted that the governor will be able to pick “anyone he wants.”
“And I’m sure he would look for someone who is right-leaning who strongly supports resource development,” Foster said. “But you never know what you’re getting until the voting starts.”
Foster said that whether or not Patkotak wins his bid for mayor, he’s already made a difference in the Capitol.
“He’s proven himself to be one heck of a natural leader,” Foster said. “He has a ton of energy and ideas, and he’s really put a great spotlight on our Alaska Native community.”
Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly stated that Rep. CJ McCormick, D-Bethel, is Alaska Native.
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