Kelly Tshibaka addresses members of the community at Nikiski Hardware & Supply on Friday, April 9, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kelly Tshibaka addresses members of the community at Nikiski Hardware & Supply on Friday, April 9, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Tshibaka makes rounds on the peninsula

The former DOA head is challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her Senate seat.

“A simple Alaskan girl who’s got experience standing up against D.C. insiders.” That’s how U.S. Senate hopeful Kelly Tshibaka described herself to a crowd of about 20 people who gathered at Nikiski Hardware & Supply on Friday to hear her speak.

The stop was one of many made by Tshibaka on the Kenai Peninsula on Friday, when she also spoke in Soldotna, Ninilchik and Homer.

Tshibaka announced at the end of March that she would resign as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration to challenge U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her seat in the 2022 election.

Prior to serving as commissioner, Tshibaka also worked as the chief data officer for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, the acting inspector general of the Federal Trade Commission, served as legal counsel to the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and performed reviews at the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.A. from Texas A&M University.

During Friday’s event, Tshibaka spoke about her Alaska roots, noting that her dad was involved with unions and her mom worked in the oil industry. She said she was the first in her family to pursue a college degree.

She also did not shy away from criticism of Murkowski, who, Tshibaka asserted, was “handed” her Senate position by her dad, former U.S. Sen. and former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski.

“We’ve had a Murkowski in the Senate for 40 years now,” Tshibaka said.

Tshibaka also accused Murkowski of “championing” the administration of President Joe Biden, whom she accused of eliminating oil and gas jobs in Alaska. On his first day in office, Biden put a temporary halt on oil and gas leasing in the refuge, which had been approved under the Trump administration.

Murkowski, who has long been an advocate of developing the refuge and was the author of the 2017 measure opening the area to oil drilling, at the time criticized the move by Biden.

Tshibaka also said that Murkowski cast the “deciding vote” on the Affordable Care Act and said it has resulted in higher health care costs and fewer options for Alaskans. Murkowski was one of three Republican senators who voted against a 2017 Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law. She voted against the act’s original passage in 2010.

Tshibaka positioned herself as having a record of reducing government size and spending.

“I got to work in agencies where we actually expose waste and fraud and we hold insiders accountable and we return hundreds and millions of dollars to American taxpayers,” Tshibaka said. “I did that in the Department of Justice [and] I did that in the intelligence community.”

Tshibaka also talked about challenges she faced trying to implement Real ID laws in Alaska after they were passed at the federal level. As DOA commissioner, she said she faced pressure to send DMV employees to rural Alaska to help them get Real ID, however, the strict documentation requirements made getting IDs to people difficult. She added that she has been unable to get a Real ID for her daughter because she doesn’t have an original copy of her birth certificate.

“I run the DMV, and I can’t get a Real ID,” Tshibaka said.

Instead, Tshibaka said there is support for having rural communities use Tribal IDs, which she said would be less expensive and more accessible.

Tshibaka said that she has “great confidence” that her campaign will be endorsed by Donald Trump, but that in choosing whom to endorse, Trump looks for certain metrics that her campaign hasn’t hit yet.

“He has said you just needed a candidate with a pulse up here,” Tshibaka said. “I think we’re way above a pulse.”

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has publicly stated that he would support Murkowski in a bid for reelection. During a joint luncheon of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce on Friday, U.S. Rep. Don Young said that he would support whomever Alaska voters pick to represent them in Congress.

Tshibaka filed her statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission electronically on March 29. Her principal campaign committee, currently her only committee, is “Kelly for Alaska.”

Tshibaka also coached the crowd in how to say her name.

“How do you say my name?” Tshibaka asked. “Like the Star Wars character: Chewbacca.”

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@penisulaclarion.com.

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