March 10

By James Brooks

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has picked the chair of Alaska’s parole board, Edie Grunwald, as his running mate.

Grunwald was appointed to the parole board by incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy in 2019 and had donated to his campaign for reelection before Pierce entered the race. Pierce announced his selection of Grunwald as his candidate for lieutenant governor Saturday at a Kenai restaurant.

Grunwald said her decision to resign from the parole board and campaign against Dunleavy was “extremely awkward at first, but then, you know, we’re all in this to make Alaska better.”

“I just think that I’m doing this duty for Alaska, so I would hope that (Dunleavy) would respect that,” she said. “I’m pretty sure he would, because he’s a great guy, you know?”

Dunleavy’s campaign offered no comment on Grunwald’s entry into the race.

With three months to go before the deadline to enter Alaska’s 2022 gubernatorial race, the field is becoming crowded. Last week, Jimmy Cottrell of Palmer became the eighth person and fifth Republican to enter the campaign. His lieutenant-governor running mate is Brittany Cottrell, his younger sister and a nonpartisan.

The deadline to register for office is June 1, but the number of candidates seeking to run in Alaska’s new election system is already on par with prior elections. In the 2018 primary election, there were nine candidates for governor. There were seven in 2014 and 10 in 2010.

Grunwald is the mother of David Grunwald, a Mat-Su teenager who was murdered in December 2016. Afterward, she became an outspoken advocate for the rights of crime victims, and for tougher sentences. She ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, finishing second in the Republican primary to Kevin Meyer, who went on to win the general election.

After the election, Dunleavy invited Grunwald to his first State of the State address and appointed her to a paid position on the parole board. During her time on the board, it sharply reduced the number of people released on discretionary parole.

She donated to Dunleavy’s campaign as recently as Dec. 28, according to campaign finance reports.

“Fine guy,” Grunwald said of Dunleavy, “nothing against him. It’s just that he didn’t ask me to run with him. I had somebody who asked me to run with him, somebody that is smart, that is driven, and the reason he wants to be in this is for Alaskans, not for himself.”

Grunwald said she would have been happy to finish her term on the parole board and then go fly fishing, but she changed her mind in “a moment of clarity,” and Saturday’s announcement followed a week and a half of preparation.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are running together as a single ticket because of a 2020 initiative known as Ballot Measure 2. In the state’s Aug. 16 primary, each voter will be asked to pick one ticket. The four tickets that receive the most votes will advance to the general election in November, where a final winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.

The four tickets will advance regardless of party affiliation, making it possible for multiple Republicans to advance. (As of Monday, no other party has more than one candidate running.)

In addition to Pierce and Grunwald, the list of candidates includes:

• Dunleavy, who has not yet announced his candidate for lieutenant governor. (Incumbent Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is not running for reelection.)

• Democratic candidate Les Gara and lieutenant governor candidate Jessica Cook.

• Independent candidate and former Gov. Bill Walker and lieutenant governor candidate Heidi Drygas.

• Libertarian candidate Billy Toien and lieutenant governor candidate Shirley Rainbolt.

• Republican candidate and current Wasilla state Rep. Christopher Kurka and lieutenant governor candidate Paul Hueper.

• Republican candidate Bruce Walden and lieutenant governor candidate Tanya Lange.

• Republican candidate James “Jimmy” Cottrell, running with lieutenant governor candidate Brittany Cottrell.

Jimmy Cottrell is a technician who works on fire suppression systems. On Monday, he was working on the North Slope and described himself as a conservative-libertarian and a “working man.” His sister, 36-year-old Brittany, is an engineer with ConocoPhillips.

Brittany Cottrell said both siblings are lifelong Alaskans and are generally interested in supporting the oil and gas industry, reducing regulations and paying a large Permanent Fund dividend.

“I never had political aspirations. I really don’t want to run but I don’t see any other way to get accomplished what needs to be done,” Jimmy Cottrell said. “And that’s what we’re seeing with our current administration, unfortunately.”