Les Gara picks former teachers’ union official as his Democrat running mate


Democrat gubernatorial candidate Les Gara announced Monday in Anchorage that a former vice president of the Anchorage Education Association and the Alaska chapter of the National Education Association is his lieutenant governor running mate.

The news release naming Jessica Cook took pains to avoid mentioning her longtime association with NEA, which is considered one of the more radical leftist unions in America.

Cook is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Palmer and teaches Eagle River students. She is married to an Air Force veteran. She will not campaign until the end of the school year, the two politicos said.

Cook said, “I’m running because I want a better future, with good jobs and good schools, so our children and grandchildren can stay here.” 

She also said, “People are leaving [the state] because they see no commitment to public education. They see an economy that’s lost jobs since before the pandemic.”

In fact, Alaska spends more on education per student than nearly all states, $17,984 per pupil for a total of $2.36 billion annually.

Like Gara, Cook grew up with hardship. While Gara grew up in foster homes, Cook was raised by an adoptive home and by her grandparents after her mother died. Like Gara, her early childhood trauma shapes her perspective on equity, saying everyone has a right to a good-paying job, regardless of their effort, education, or interest: “People have a right to a good education, and a good-paying job with a living wage, regardless of their background, hardship, or whether they’re born rich or poor.”

Cook has three children, five grandchildren, and has two master’s degrees in education.

“Jessica brings energy, intelligence, and a needed perspective to a state where people see little commitment to public education,” said Gara, who has known Cook for more than 10 years.

“Alaskans are losing jobs and educational opportunities because of a lack of leadership. Giving away $1.3 billion in oil company ‘tax credit’ subsidies makes us poor. That prevents us from building the future of good schools, good jobs, and funding a stronger dividend than we’ve seen under this Governor. It’s wrong to give away the value of Alaska’s resources and then pit Alaskans against each other to fight between schools, a strong University, police in dozens of communities that have none, a PFD, and the things that can build a stronger state,” said Gara.

The two are the candidates running for the Executive Branch under the Democratic Party banner, with former Gov. Bill Walker still declaring himself to be undeclared as a candidate, and his running mate Heidi Drygas, a union lawyer, by his side. The Gara-Cook campaign and the Walker-Drygas campaign are treating each other with kid gloves as they head toward the ranked choice general election ballot, hoping to share voters in the number 1 and number 2 places.

According to EducationData.org:

Alaska spends the most on K-12 education in terms of percentage of taxpayer income and ranks 7th overall in the most spending per pupil. Alaska’s schools rank 6th in funding and are the most dependent schools in the nation on federal funding.

  • Alaskan K-12 public schools spend $17,984 per pupil for a total of $2.36 billion annually.
  • Expenditures are equivalent to 5.09% of taxpayer income.
  • Alaska K-12 schools receive $401.2 million, or $3,064 per pupil, from the federal government.
  • State funding totals $1.58 billion or $12,061 per pupil.
  • Local funding totals $548.8 million or $4,191 per pupil.
  • State and local funding is equivalent to 4.60% of Alaska’s taxpayer income.
  • Alaska’s federal education funding is equivalent to 0.87% of the state’s taxpayer income.
  • Funding for K-12 education in Alaska totals $2.53 billion or $19,315 per pupil.
  • The difference between spending and funding is $174.3 million or $1,079 per pupil.
  • At the postsecondary level, colleges and universities spend $32,630 per pupil, 31.10% of which goes toward instruction.
  • Federal funding for postsecondary education averages $4,980 per student.
  • State funding and local funding average $13,197 per student and $567 per student, respectively.
  • Tuition accounts for 15.80% of all funding.
  • 4.59% of all postsecondary funding in Alaska comes from sales and services of auxiliary enterprises.


  1. Why are the conservative candidates not colluding like this? What are we supposed to do on the rank choice ballot to avoid wasting our votes? I can’t vote for RINOs but I don’t want to waste my vote

  2. The NEA decided to ask Garland to call parents interested in their children’s education domestic terrorists. No wonder they are keeping it a secret!!

  3. Can the elite Marxists throw up any worse candidates? Big government, Democrat insiders, anti-family …..and now, organized teacher’s union goons. The worst kind of leaders for our state and for our sanity. These people will destroy your freedoms, destroy our economy, destroy our family structure, and destroy common sense. Stay far away!!!!

  4. It’s hard to imagine how Jessica Cook, a democrat and who has close ties to the NEA can declare that has solutions to Alaska’s education problems. Democrats are intertwined with the teachers unions and both serve their own interests with the children being left out. In short, they contribute to creating the very problems they promise to resolve in their election campaigns. Looking at the condition of this country after one year of democrat control, democrats have no solutions. They are the problem.

  5. A litmus test for how far left Alaska has become. Linking himself to the teachers unions at a time when every day people are openly suspicious of the education industrial machine.

    Either ragingly stupid or crazy like a fox.

    How much traction this gets will tell you how far left Alaska has drifted.

    Will he win? Of course not. He’s a stalking horse/cannon fodder for the corruption of Bill Walker. But still, it’s important to watch how much juice this gets.

    Can’t help but wonder if we’d be here if the Cowardly Lion had actually fought back instead of hiding behind Ben Stevens desk.

  6. The left has no solutions. Every single year their rallying cry to solve all of the public education shortcomings is to just spend more money. Well we have been throwing that solution at education for far too many years and it does not work.

    Break up the public school monopoly. Put educational choices firmly into the hands of families. Reward success – real success. Create more competition with myriads of educational choices that families can choose from to best fit their child. Allow for tax credits for those that choose to fund their own. Have public funding follow the student.

    But no, the left is all about power and control, and now also indoctrination. Not real education.

  7. I think my observation is correct. Democrats are using the team effort responding to rank choice voting. What a nice looking team, a good and thoughtful pick. How i am learning republicans are lean too independent and team work skills are weak. Whether dunleavy, kurka, pierce win the red team like whether walker or gara or another democrat wins.

    • Stop cutting dunleavy down for things beyond his control and praise him for the red acheivements he accomplished. Start playing as a red team. Stop being a red voter passing the ball to the blue. Rank choice voting will test which team is most unified. Right now team blue has better team skills and control the game. Thankfully! There is time on the clock to flip the game play. Pray for our church leaders and regular attendees that they learn the gospel to live it and share it

  8. Lets STOP the hemorrhage of public funds to a failing education system in Alaska . This kind of leadership will destroy all productive wage earners in our state thru additional taxes to fund one ” special interest Unionized entity” !
    Along with HB 259 fully supported by Teachers Unions they will steal more of our PFD’s 25/75 % of earnings a loss of our “property right ” Dividend!

    What’ s next a UBI for those that don’t make a effort to support themselves but receive benefits of real “working people ” of our state ?

  9. Perhaps (among other reasons) people are leaving the state because the NEA has done nothing to reverse the trend of an increasingly failing educational system. The NEA exists not for the kids but to benefit itself and the Democrat party. Greasy Les is in good company.

  10. The hemorrhage of public funds (from the property taxpayers) is criminal theft if one considers the $111 Million school bonds proposed to build three new edifices in Anchorage to house the nonsense being fed to the students while the Fed will likely start raising interest rates in the near future. I’m voting NO on all bonds with the threat of rising interest rates on the horizon.

  11. It appears to be another one-trick-pony team running. Haven’t we already been there done that once with a sell-the-state-out-for a pipeline guy, who is running again. Sadly being in the governor’s job requires more than just worrying about education.
    People are not leaving the state because we don’t spend enough on education. They leave because there are no jobs and costs are too high! Seems the Gara team’s answer is the old “tried and failed” more money for education. Instead the answer should be less funds and those should be based on performance. Trim the bureaucracies, set standards for a curriculum, make bond reimbursement contingent on actual student numbers in a district, demand better utilization of existing structures first…..etc. As for Mr. Gara’s running mate, she seems to be a nice lady but managing a 6th grade class and running a state election are two very different things.

  12. Before I Vote for You, a Few Questions from an Average Joe…
    Mask mandate? (Yes or No)
    Vaccine mandate? (Yes or No)
    Abortion: Murder or Healthcare?
    Borders: Is it a crime to sneak into our country?
    2nd Amendment: For hunting deer or preventing tyranny?
    Genders: How many are there?
    Girl’s Locker Room: I wear a dress & makeup, can I shower in there?
    I’m a white man: Am I guilty of all the sins my ancestors committed?
    My income: What % does government have authority to take?
    Vagrancy: A crime?
    PFD: Citizens or Gov’t property?
    I have many, many more. But this is a good start. Thanks.

  13. Team Gara’s humble origins don’t excuse their particular flavor of woke Leftism.
    Imagine Alaska’s new lieutenant governor, the teachers union capo, taking control of Alaska’s state elections, in which voters’ confidence is already shaken by the miracles of Dominion voting machinery, ballot harvesting, and ranked-choice voting.
    No worries, the word “former” means such a thing just can’t happen, but what if it does?
    So voters can choose the Walker-Communist China syndicate or the Gara-Teachers Union syndicate.
    Won’t matter much, one’ll hire the other to do some Special Thing, everybody wins
    … except productive Alaskans whose humble origins never mattered.

  14. Ah yes, yet another example of ‘journalism’ twisting facts to make it look like the left is so bad… how about the dismal job the far right has done while maintaining power for decades in Alaska? These two may have the dreaded “D” next to their names but at least they are Alaskans and clearly look to put us and our home first unlike the Outside Interests and Party Line servicing garbage we’ve had for way too long now.

  15. Alaska’s economy was humming until The Wuhan flu hit and then the nail in the coffin, the Biden presidency.
    Unnecessary lockdowns, cancelling of oil leases, cruise ships cancelled, our fishing industry involved in frivolous lawsuits, cutting ties with Canada. All courtesy of…the Democrats. If Dunleavy wasn’t in office we’d be just like CA and NY. Or, maybe that’s the plan.

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