Independent Rep. Josiah Patkotak of Utqiagvik is running to become North Slope County’s next mayor and said he is prepared to relinquish his seat in the Alaska Legislature if he wins the October municipal election.
Paktotak’s decision was made public through a filing Monday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The municipal election is Oct. 3, shortly before an expected special legislative session on a long-range state plan to balance state spending and revenue.
If Patkotak leaves the Legislature, Gov. Mike Dunleavy would select his replacement, subject to confirmation by the predominantly Republican House majority.
Patkotak, speaking by cell phone from a goose-hunting trip in his home district, said that with incumbent Mayor Harry Brower Jr. facing term limits that preclude another run, he is interested in returning to city office. Patkotak served in the North Slope County Assembly before running for state office in 2020. He won re-election unopposed last year.
“I thought I would throw my name in the hat for the opportunity to serve in that capacity, thinking that I can actually do some things locally,” he said of the mayoralty. “That’s where I want to provide the leadership for the next, at least, three years with the mayoral mandate, if that’s what the people decide.”
Patkotak said the opportunity to spend 12 months at home was a big draw, and he feels he can “do more from the administrative level” in the municipality by being home to direct infrastructure work.
Home to vast oil fields, North Slope County has an operating budget of more than $300 million, and the county mayor has significant control over how and where that money is spent. The mayor’s salary, $265,000, is more than double the amount paid to state legislators in salary and travel expenses.
During the just-concluded legislative session, Patkotak, an Iñupiaq leader whose local name is Aullaqsruaq, took an extended leave of absence from Capitol Hill to lead a successful whaling crew.
Patkotak and several of his colleagues said he has been considering his options for several months. Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, sits next to Patkotak on the House floor and said his colleague’s decision was not a surprise, but he will be greatly missed in the Legislature.
“Josiah is not only a colleague to me, but also a friend and a brother,” Cronk said. “He is a real human being and no one is a greater advocate for his people, their culture and subsistence ways of life. Rural Alaska is where his heart is, right after God.”
Rep. CJ McCormick, D-Bethel and a freshman lawmaker, said it was “a privilege” to serve alongside Patkotak on the Bush Caucus, a group of rural lawmakers.
“I learned a lot from him in the short year we served together,” McCormick said.
Patkotak’s seat on Capitol Hill will not be vacant until (and if) he wins the mayoral seat. State law would then give Dunleavy 30 days to name a replacement. Normally, a replacement must be from the same political party as the outgoing legislator, but because Patkotak is independent, the governor can select “any qualified person” in the district.
The replacement must be confirmed by the other members of the outgoing legislator’s caucus in the Legislature.
Christopher Clark, a legislative historian and aide to Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said that after consulting legislative records, he was unable to find a case since statehood in which a governor was asked to fill a position previously held by a independent.
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and Patkotak’s colleague in the Bush Caucus and the House Majority, said via text message that “it will be interesting to see how (Patkotak’s departure) changes the dynamics of the House.”
He pointed out that the governor will be able to choose “whoever he wants.”
“And I’m sure he would look for someone on the right who is very supportive of resource development,” Foster said. “But you never know what you’re getting until the voting starts.”
Foster said that whether or not Patkotak wins his mayoral bid, he has already made a difference on Capitol Hill.
“He has proven to be a great natural leader,” Foster said. “He’s got a lot of energy and ideas, and he’s really put a big spotlight on our Alaska Native community.”