Shocker: Unions playing big in five key Republican primaries - Must Read Alaska
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Shocker: Unions playing big in five key Republican primaries

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Powerful unions in Alaska typically back registered Democrats, and have mainly stayed out of Republican primaries.

Not anymore. Alaska unions, which represent 18 percent of the Alaska workforce but have an outsized influence in politics, have gotten friendly with petition candidates who say they are “independents” but who invariably organize with Democrats once they get to Juneau.

Vince Beltrami, head of the AFL-CIO, tried to be one of those petition candidates, but ultimately lost to incumbent Sen. Cathy Giessel for Senate Seat N in 2016.

Jason Grenn and Dan Ortiz are two “independents” who succeeded in the House, where Beltrami failed in the Senate.


This primary season, unions are playing harder than ever in Republican races.

That’s where the action is, and they intend to put the Democrats solidly in charge again in the Governor’s Office and the House, with the help of a few key Republicans.

Union-back Republicans LeDoux, Stutes, and Paul Seaton (now a Democrat primary candidate in Homer), were richly rewarded with key seats: LeDoux was chair of Rules, Stutes was House Whip, and Seaton ran the powerful Finance Committee.

Big Labor is hoping to keep these Musk Ox Republicans — the self-described group of Republicans who flipped the House blue by joining the Democrats — in office while making even more inroads into Republican ranks in two key Eagle River seats.

Joey Merrick

These efforts are headed by Joey Merrick, (head of Laborers’ Local 341 and whose wife Kelly Merrick happens to be running as a Republican in Eagle River District 14,) who has created an independent expenditure group named Working Families for Alaska.

Kelly Merrick

Merrick’s group has already spent close to $70,000 of union dues to send messages to voters and produce radio ads in support of Musk Ox candidates and others:

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, Republican from Anchorage District 15, member of the Musk Ox Coalition. Merrick put $3,000 toward LeDoux’s re-election; Local 367 PAC put $1,000 into her campaign.

Rep. Louise Stutes, Republican from Kodiak, member of the Musk Ox Coalition. Merrick put $8,000 into her re-election.

Jim Colver, registered as a Republican and leader of the Musk Ox Coalition before voters booted him out of his District 9 seat in 2016. Merrick has spent $22,000 to get Colver back in office. Alaska Laborers Political Action Committee put $1,000 directly into his campaign.

A whopping ninety percent of Colver’s campaign is funded with union money.

“That’s hard to say you’re not a bought and paid for candidate,” said Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.

Union funds are pouring into two other Republican primary candidates in two of the most conservative districts in the state: Nancy Dahlstrom and Merrick’s own wife Kelly Merrick. These are open seats whose incumbents, Dan Saddler and Lora Reinbold, are moving on.

Nancy Dahlstrom, Republican and former legislator, is running for Rep. Dan Saddler’s Eagle River District 13 seat. Joey Merrick has spent $10,000 on her campaign. She was known as a reliable union backer the last time she served in the House and is seen as a potential Musk Ox coalition member.

Kelly Merrick:  Merrick’s wife Kelly has not received a cent from her husband’s Working Families for Alaska group, but has received most of her funds from either union political funds or directly from the unions and its powerful members: $1,000-Laborers Local 341, $1,000-Public Employees Local 71, $1,000-International Assoc. of Firefighters, PAC Fund Local 1264, $1,000-Alaska Laborers Political Action Committee, $1,000-UA Local 375, $1,000-ALPEC Laborer’s Local 942, $1,000-United Association Local 367, $1,000-IBEW Local 1547 PAC.

These represent 21 percent of her campaign’s  income, according to the 30-day reports the public has access to at APOC. 

In the case of Kelly Merrick, she’s also donated to those considered out of step with Republican values, including Vince Beltrami, to whom she gave the maximum of $500 in 2016, and Gov. Bill Walker in 2010:

While Joey Merrick may not be funding Kelly Merrick’s campaign with Working Families for Alaska funds, surely he knows that his $22,000 support of Jim Colver is toxic to his wife’s aspirations and will raise questions about where her loyalties lie.


During the Eagle River Republican candidate forum on Monday night, neither Kelly Merrick nor Nancy Dahlstrom attended, but people in the room were chattering about the big union contributions playing in their district and what it could mean to see conservative Eagle River Districts 13-14 change hands.

Part of the audience at the Eagle River candidate forum on Monday night.

Dahlstrom’s opponents in District 13, Republicans Craig Christenson and Bill Cook, were in attendance at the forum, which was standing-room only at the Eagle River Ale House.

Merrick’s District 14 opponents, Republicans Jamie Allard and Eugene Harnett, attended as well and the audience of 70 were able to hear their answers on very specific questions. They were not able to confront their union-funded opponent on key questions that matter to District Republicans, nor bring out her past contributions to Democrats or faux-independents.

The people of Eagle River don’t know where Dahlstrom and Merrick stand on the very tough “yes” or “no” questions that all the other candidates had to answer at the forum, such as these, which were part of the “Paddle Round”

  • Do the natural resources of Alaska belong to the state government? Yes or No
  • Will you put forward legislation before the start of the next legislative session that would make clear that the State of Alaska is a right-to-work state? Yes or No
  • Will you put forward legislation before the start of the next legislative session that would make clear that the State of Alaska shall honor the right to privacy of those in the womb as guaranteed in the Constitution of the State of Alaska?Yes or No

Dahlstrom told the local group that was hosting the forum in advance that she had to be out of state due to a family medical situation.

The winner of the District 13 primary — Dahlstrom, Christenson, or Cook — will face Danvelle Kimp, a Democrat in November.

In District 14, either Merrick, Allard, or Harnett will face Democrat Joe Hackenmueller in the General Election.


The latest candidate reports were filed on July 23, and on Aug. 12 candidates must start filling 24-hour reports. That’s when the public will have a clearer idea of how much more union money is being poured into these campaigns. Their 7-day reports are due on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • With union bosses dipping this deeply, this early into Alaska elections Tony Soprano cannot be far behind. Real Republicans need to stay armed and watch their backs, especially given the lawlessness that has now become so common in Alaska cities. They may also want to consider food tasters.

  • A reasonable guess is that public-sector union officials knew the outcome of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision was likely to eviscerate public-sector unions.
    One wonders whether they are hedging their bets by courting (a hardened cynic might say buying) Republican politicians.

  • You do know union dues are not used in politics, right? The money unions put into politics come from an political contribution election, that the member either makes or doesn’t. I wouldn’t want to let facts get in the way of a “good” story, so I’ll be quiet now.

    • With respect, union dues are not supposed to be used in politics.
      Listen for union rank and file demanding and getting verifiable, outside-audit data showing exactly where their dues and PAC money goes.
      Now that’s “quiet”.

    • I don’t remember seeing this “political election contribution” you speak of. There is an option to not pay fees that is never talked about and is hard to find information on and if you choose that option your money won’t go towards political activities, but the union won’t tell you how much of your money you won’t have to give them and you lose your voice and vote in the union…you do still get to pay for and receive union representation though. Don’t let those facts get in your way either, brother/sister.

    • The wages that are payed to the union officials are in fact from dues. Let’s hope they were doing there pac work in the evenings on there own time and not while they were doing union business.

    • I have a bridge we should talk about if you believe that.

  • Don Young……..What” Why? Don Young just endorsed Kelly Merrick pretend conservative

    wife of union boss….already with $70K union $$

    What the hell is Young doing? Another weasel….pretending to be independent…

    Just another deceiver…..and future Musk Rat.

  • Steve-O,
    The political contribution agreement is its own form, requiring your signature. Maybe you didn’t read it, but I find it hard to believe you didn’t see it. Anyway brother, next time your asked to sign something I would encourage you to read said document. If you still don’t understand the document after reading, ask someone to explain it to you. I’m sure somebody will be more than willing to help.

    • I can and do read every document I sign, I can even understand them, thanks for your concern. You must still be talking about the opt out provision that SCOTUS recently struck down. Maybe your union was forthcoming with the opt out paperwork, but I seriously doubt it. You see as it turns out, if I want a voice in my union I have to pay for that. Sure I can opt out and not be allowed to voice my opinion or even vote, but I still have to pay either way. Of course I’m in a private sector union so maybe the public sector unions do things differently? FDR warned against public sector unions and the corruption that comes with them, I tend to think public sector unions have corrupted not just the government but private sector unions as well.

      • I too, am in a private sector union and I was referring to the political contribution option you signed. Before I wrote that last post I reached out to a few friends from other private unions. Every one of them new of the political option and stated they had signed it. That’s what led me to the conclusion you either didn’t read it or didn’t understand what you were signing and I’m sticking with that opinion. As far as the “opt out”, my union never told me about that, but I was aware.
        I did find the, “I believe public unions have corrupted the government”, laughable. Scary world you live in Steve-O, enjoy it.

        • Well, like I said I don’t remember the “political election contribution” opt out form you are talking about, of course I’ve been in the union a while. There is the option to opt out after you initially become a union member, but it’s not as simple as signing a form as I previously noted. If you don’t think public sector unions have corrupted government you are living in the scary world, the rest of us are living in the real world.

  • Why not ask all of the folks receiving Union money to take a Pledge not to caucus with the Democrats. At least have them on record.

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