National Republicans use often-doomed legislation to target Alaska Rep. Peltola | #alaska | #politics


WASHINGTON — In the early days of the 2024 election cycle, national Republicans are working a strategy to flip Alaska’s newly Democratic seat in the House of Representatives, taking out advertisements and issuing statements attacking Rep. Mary Peltola’s voting record on what she and her staff describe as “messaging bills.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee in March named Peltola one of its top targets for the 2024 cycle. She holds one of 37 blue seats they’re trying to place in GOP control next term. By traditional measures, Peltola is vulnerable: a first-term Democrat in a district previously represented by a Republican for 49 years, in a state that former President Donald Trump carried by 10% in 2020.

It’s still early in the 2024 race, and no Republican challengers have yet declared their candidacy for Alaska’s lone House seat. Yet the NRCC and other national Republican groups have already released messaging and poured funding into advertisements that condemn several of the freshman representative’s votes.

The NRCC has called Peltola’s opposition to the Republican-led energy package “anti-Alaska” and her no vote on the debt ceiling an act of “political theater.” Other statements have criticized her votes against rescinding Internal Revenue Service funding and enacting a border security proposal.

However, none of those bills have passed the Democrat-controlled Senate or have been signed into law by President Joe Biden. Both Peltola and her campaign manager and chief of staff Anton McParland have expressed frustration with the so-called “messaging bills.”

“I think that there’s like an obvious through-line there,” McParland said. “These bills are more designed to achieve those desired attack ads and to put vulnerable Democrats in a position where they have to vote one way and frustrate one part of their coalition or vote the other way and frustrate another.”

In a statement, NRCC spokesman Ben Petersen said claiming that bills are designed to become attack ads is a “lame excuse.” “Peltola’s anti-Alaska votes speak for themselves and voters will replace her with a representative who actually shares their values,” he said.

Peltola’s vote against the Republican energy package in March has been a particular focus for the NRCC. The bill was given the special designation of H.R. 1 — the first bill and top priority of the House Republican conference. Among the sprawling “Lower Energy Costs Act” provisions were reforms seeking to expedite permitting for infrastructure projects and mandates for oil and gas leasing in Alaska. It would also undo parts of Democrats’ signature tax and climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act.

The bill passed the House with a few Democratic defections: Texas Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez backed the bill alongside moderate Democrats Peltola has aligned with, Washington Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez and Maine Rep. Jared Golden.

But Peltola voted no, saying the bill’s “overarching intent was very good but the particulars are not so good.” She also called the measure “another partisan bill that adds to the national debt,” rolls back recent advances in clean energy policy and fails to resolve slow permitting timelines.

In response, the NRCC highlighted Peltola’s no vote in a memo titled: “NRCC to Vulnerable Energy District House Dems Opposing HR 1: You’re Doomed.”

In an April statement, Peltola told The Hill, “It seems like so many of the votes we’re made to take in DC are designed just to be used in attack ads.”

On energy, national Republicans have also pointed to Peltola’s vote against blocking a Biden administration environmental, social and corporate governance rule, given Alaska’s energy-fueled economy. The resolution passed both the House and the Senate but the president issued a veto. Meanwhile, Peltola’s backers point to her support for the ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project, which Biden approved.

Peltola’s April vote with the rest of her party against the House Republicans’ “Limit, Save, Grow Act” to raise the debt ceiling has also been the subject of ads. The NRCC reportedly spent five figures on an ad buy that spotlights Peltola and other vulnerable Democrats and says “extreme House Democrats are addicted to spending your money.” The American Action Network, a House GOP-aligned issue advocacy nonprofit, has taken out similar ads.

Peltola said the debt bill — which included Republican priorities like work requirements for federal programs — would see “Alaska seniors, veterans, and children becoming collateral damage in this process.” And though Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has leveraged the bill to seek concessions in debt ceiling negotiations, it’s another measure that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Republican leadership has passed other legislation, like a “parental rights” bill and a measure banning transgender girls from participating in school sports, that also stand no chance of being taken up in the Senate. While those measures have not been translated into NRCC ads against Peltola at this point, the votes have forced vulnerable Democrats to publicly take a position on hot-button issues, making them a target for criticism.

For example, Peltola’s former House opponent, Republican Nick Begich III, seized on Peltola’s vote against the “Parents Bill of Rights Act.”

Peltola “OPPOSED the Parents Bill of Rights Act. Opposition to parental rights is neither pro family nor pro freedom,” he said in a Twitter post, referencing Peltola’s campaign slogan.

Not all of the measures the NRCC has focused on have failed. One measure overturns a Washington, D.C., criminal code that would have reduced maximum penalties for some violent crime in the nation’s capital, and Peltola was one of 173 House Democrats to vote against the Republican-led effort. The Senate ultimately passed the bill and Biden signed it into law.

The NRCC has used Peltola and 14 other vulnerable Democrats’ votes to cast them as weak on crime and launched a digital ad campaign on the issue. McParland said Peltola voted against the measure because it was primarily a local issue and that “they didn’t necessarily need Alaska to have a point of view on the matter,” but acknowledged the bill put Peltola in a difficult spot.

“I don’t think that every bill that’s designed for political purposes is necessarily going to fail depending on its nature,” McParland said. “They’re more designed to put folks into a rough position.”

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Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time reporter for the ADN based in Washington, D.C. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

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