By CRAIG E. CAMPBELL
In politics it is said that any publicity is good publicity so long as you are not in an obituary.
Also in politics, there are two types of obituaries. The first is the obvious time when each of us gets to meet our maker. The second is when a politician commits political suicide and breaks their word, their bond, with their constituency.
Unfortunately, Eagle River Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick unilaterally terminated her future representing District 14 Eagle River when she broke her bond by going back on her word. She couldn’t get elected dog catcher today, even if we elected dog catchers.
Just 100 days after getting elected to her second term in the Alaska House of Representatives, Merrick betrayed her constituents by being the single vote out of the 40 house seats to turn a numerical Republican majority, into the minority.
While telling her constituents she “did not join a bi-partisan Democrat controlled House majority,” her words fell on deaf ears, as her actions resulted in a bi-partisan, Democrat controlled majority.
This can only be explained in one of three ways. Either she knew exactly what she was doing and thought she could hoodwink her constituents into thinking she didn’t do something she did; or worst, she didn’t care about her constituents and used this opportunity to advance her own political future. The third option is that she just didn’t understand what she was doing.
I know Kelly Merrick, and she is not dumb. In fact, she is a shrewd devil who understood exactly what she was doing and thinks she can get away with it.
The track record for Republicans forming bi-partisan Democrat controlled majorities is not good. In 2014, a few Republicans formed the Musk Ox Coalition and sided with Democrats.
In the 2016 election, Musk Ox members Cathy Munoz and Jim Colver lost their races. In 2018, Musk Ox Republican Paul Seaton lost his primary election to Sarah Vance.
While no longer called the Musk Ox Coalition, Republicans continued to broker Democrat led coalitions and in the 2020 election, Jennifer Johnston, Chuck, Kopp, and Gabrielle LeDoux all lost their primary races while Gary Knopp unfortunately died in a tragic plane crash.
The history of Republicans supporting Democrat-led coalitions does not appear too good for political careers.
Why would Merrick break her bond with her constituents by going back on her word? Eagle River is one of the most conservative districts in Alaska. She understood that District 14 would erupt, and it did last night by passing a resolution censuring her and committing to never provide any future support. Obviously, she must have no intention of returning to either the House or Senate.
Maybe Merrick thinks she has a shot at winning the governor’s race in 2022. That doesn’t make sense. Her husband Joey Merrick is the union boss at Laborers Local 341.
Coincidently, Vince Beltrami just retired from the AFL-CIO boss position and word has it he is considering a run for governor.
There is no way Merrick would be allowed to split the union vote against Beltrami, and Republicans certainly aren’t going to elect a Benedict Arnold to the governorship. So I don’t think Merrick has any intention of running for governor.
But there are two other plausible possibilities. The first is that Merrick may be aiming to run against Senator Murkowski in 2022. With the political suicide cliff-jumping Sen. Lisa Murkowski seems to be taking with Republicans, this might make a lot of sense. The problem is, Murkowski has a lot of liberal support and unless Merrick switches her long-time pro-life stance, she would have an uphill battle against Murkowski, who has a track record and can turn out liberal Republicans, moderate Democrats, and the rural vote. My bet is Merrick is not running against Murkowski.
Is she targeting Congressman Don Young’s seat? Merrick is more conservative than Alyce Galvin and could curry Democrat favor these next two years as co-chair of House Finance. With union backing and building a strong moderate base, Merrick would certainly be a challenge to Don Young.
However, there is that pesky Republican primary she would have to face, that’s if she remained a Republican. Ballot Measure 2, which was clearly put forth by its sponsors to bolster Sen. Murkowski’s changes at another Senate term, may help Merrick in her quest for a House seat. But Young has been a stalwart at supporting Alaska, and he has union backing. So, Merrick is most probably praying the Young retires and she gets to take a shoot at an open seat, otherwise this path to victory for her is a dead-end.
My bet is she will run for lieutenant governor, supporting Beltrami, to form a union backed gubernatorial team in 2022. A Beltrami/Merrick team would draw from numerous, traditionally conflicting bases. That should worry Republicans to the max. A Beltrami/Merrick executive branch would be the final nail in the coffin of a death sentence for Alaska.
Merrick is probably considering the prospects of switching parties by 2022 to gain Democrat support for a lieutenant governor run. For anyone who may even think for a second of supporting her, consider her word. She made a bond with District 14 to never join a Democrat led coalition, so regardless of how she tries to spin it, she lied and was the kingpin that allowed Louise Stutes to become Speaker of the House and form committees controlled by Democrats.
Let me end on a positive note: I am positive Kelly Merrick will never again be elected to any position in Alaska, ever.
Craig E. Campbell served on the Anchorage Assembly between 1986 and 1995 and later as Alaska’s Tenth Lieutenant Governor. He was the previous Chief Executive Officer and President for Alaska Aerospace Corporation. He retired from the Alaska National Guard as Lieutenant General (AKNG) and holds the concurrent retired Federal rank of Major General (USAF).