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Alaska Legislature

As state House members eye Dunleavy’s Senate seat, Mat-Su assemblyman jumps into race

For the past few months, questions have swirled over who could fill the Alaska Senate seat held by Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, who's running for governor.

Randall Kowalke (Courtesy Mat-Su Borough)

Would it be David Eastman, the first-term Republican House member who represents the west side of Dunleavy's district, which includes Willow, Talkeetna and parts of Wasilla?

Or George Rauscher, the first-term Republican House member who represents the east side of Dunleavy's district — a huge swath stretching 200 miles from Delta Junction in the Interior to Valdez on Prince William Sound?

But with those two still undecided about whether to run, a new candidate has jumped into the race: Randall Kowalke, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly member from Willow.

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

Kowalke, a Republican and retired businessman, filed paperwork with state campaign finance officials on New Year's Eve that allows him to start raising money for a Senate campaign.

"And I wasn't drinking," he quipped. "No one was sure what they wanted to do regarding filling that Senate seat, and I made up my mind."

Dunleavy, who's finishing his second term in the Senate, has been one of that chamber's most fiscally and socially conservative members. He quit his position in the Republican-led majority last year because he thought his colleagues hadn't cut enough from the budget.

Kowalke won his Assembly seat in 2015 by the tiny margin of 33 votes, or less than 2 percent.

He said he considers himself a "centrist" who believes some government is necessary. But he said he doesn't know whether the state needs to spend some of the earnings of the Permanent Fund to fill the majority of Alaska's big budget gap — a step favored by Gov. Bill Walker and the leadership of both the state House and Senate majorities.

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Palmer (Marc Lester / ADN)

"If we come to that conclusion, I want the voters of the state to weigh in," Kowalke said.

Neither Rauscher nor Eastman has announced that he'll seek to replace Dunleavy. But asked about the possibility this week, both acknowledged considering the idea.

"That is something I am evaluating very seriously," Eastman wrote in an email.

"It's an interesting field out there. David hasn't declared. I haven't declared," Rauscher said. "There's a lot of moving parts."

A fourth Republican, Pam Goode of Delta Junction, has also registered a 2018 primary campaign with state campaign finance officials. But she hasn't specified whether she'll run for the House seat held by Rauscher or the Senate seat held by Dunleavy.

Goode, whose campaign slogan is "Goode for Alaska," didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

But in a Facebook post earlier this week, she wrote: "The House or the Senate is an option. There are other unknown factors that may surface which will affect that decision."

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