After he took a break from Yale in the fall of 2011 to work on a writing project in his hometown of Sitka, Alaska, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins had to defer graduation by a semester. Now, only one course credit stands between Kreiss-Tomkins and the completion of his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, but his candidacy for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives has put his graduation on hold even longer.
After a summer of door-to-door campaigning in Alaska state House District 34, which includes Sitka, Kreiss-Tomkins was nominated as the Democratic party candidate on Aug. 28 with 1,256 votes. He ran unopposed but will face incumbent Republican candidate Bill Thomas in the November general election.
Kreiss-Tomkins said that the results of this month’s primaries are both “exciting and scary,” as he expects a large amount of money from the Republican Party and oil companies will begin to wash over the race in support of Thomas.
“So far, all has been honest and fair: low-key advertising, no personal attacks, limited outside dollars trying to influence the race. But this will change,” Kreiss-Tomkins said in an email to the News.
He added that he is counting on the energy of hundreds of volunteers to run “the best grassroots campaign” in southeast Alaska.
“It’s shaping up to be a classic political battle: outside money versus local grassroots and volunteer energy,” he wrote. “I’m glad we’re the latter.”
, a former Democratic candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives from Anchorage, and the other from Gershon Cohen — a high school debate coach resident in Haines, which is also in the newly drawn district.
Cohen, who met Kreiss-Tomkins at a debate competition when he was 14 years old, said he has always been impressed by the Democratic nominee’s “remarkable” political savvy.
In 2002, at the age of 12, Kreiss-Tomkins garnered national media attention when he organized the Alaska campaign for presidential candidate and former Vermont governor Howard Dean ’71. Kreiss-Tomkins continued to campaign for various state and national campaigns, including Tony Knowles’s bid for U.S. Senate in 2004 and Barack Obama’s presidential race in 2008.
“Jonathan clearly had an interest in politics and I immediately saw this as an opportunity for him,” Cohen said. “I always thought he’d be a wonderful person to have in politics: not just because he’s smart, but because he’s a good person and would make decisions based on the needs of people in the community.”
Dr. Robert Hunter, a clinician at Sitka Medical Center, agreed that Kreiss-Tomkins’ sincere demeanor and innovative platform will convince Alaskans to cast their ballots in his favor.
“I’ve known Jonathan and his family for years, and he’s been outstanding at whatever he’s attempted to do,” Hunter said. “He’s got new ideas and I’m sure he’d be an outstanding state representative.”
Before he received the recruitment call from Cohen, Kreiss-Tomkins had planned to interview for an internship with the White House or to come back to Yale this fall. He had nine days to decide whether he would file papers for the June 1 deadline declaring his intent to run for office.
He submitted the paperwork on that final day, explaining that he is confident he can win.
In particular, Kreiss-Tomkins’s platform centers on the use of Alaska’s oil resources. Kreiss-Tomkins believes that oil companies should not be the only ones to profit from the state’s resource, but that Alaskans too should benefit from this resource.
Other tenets of the candidate’s platform include building connective infrastructure in the region, increasing jobs in the fishing industry and ensuring public school funding is provided with ample time for administrators to react to any changes.
According to official records for the last campaign finance reporting period, Kreiss-Tomkins outraised Thomas $10,500 to $2,500 — reaching a new record in Alaska’s state house campaign contributions.
Kreiss-Tomkins said his campaign has received donations from 152 people, which he said is more individuals than any other house campaign in the state.
“Statistics substantiate that we’re not a sacrificial lamb campaign, a narrative that is sometimes easy to assign simply because I’m young,” said the 23 former Democratic National Committee chairman Dean, Branford College Master Elizabeth Bradley MPH ’95 GRD ’96 and FES Associate Dean Gordon Geballe GRD ’81.
Geballe emphasized the nominee’s passion for Alaska and his home state.
“Jonathan is a patriot of Alaska, so it’s not surprising that he’s doing what he’s doing,” the professor said. “This state House race is really just him finding another way of living out his passion for his home state.”
While at Yale, Kreiss-Tomkins was not involved in city politics but pursued other extra-curricular activities like music and running. He said his time at Yale largely prepared him for his new political endeavor because of the variety of personalities and backgrounds within the student body.
“Politics should be about people and Yale is filled with complicated, wonderful people,” he said. “I learned a lot about people at Yale.”
Still he never forgot about his hometown: in 2011, he created the Sitka Fellows program to bring young high-achievers from Yale and other universities to Alaska to work on a variety of artistic projects for the summer.
Over the past two years, more than 50 Yale students spent their summers in Sitka, working on a multitude of writing, music and artistic activities.
Tully McLoughlin ’11, who participated in the Sitka Fellows program, applauded Kreiss-Tomkins’ commitment to his home state.
“In some ways, [Kreiss-Tomkins] sees that people don’t give Alaska enough consideration and, therefore, he wants to put it on the map,” McLoughlin said. “He did a very good job in bringing people to Sitka and really showed the national beauty and opportunities that Alaska can offer.”
When asked of his future plans, the Democratic nominee said he would not count on flying back to New Haven any time soon but does plan to complete his studies within the next year.