Grocery store encounters between politicians and voters is essential

by Willy Keppel

Willy Keppel of Quinhagak is currently a candidate for the Alaska State Senate District S along with incumbent Senator Lyman Hoffman.

Several months ago, a few close friends and I decided that we would challenge Senator Lyman Hoffman’s claim to rural residency in Bethel. Our reasoning was that with about 300 years of combined living and working with Hoffman, we knew he was no longer thinking and working for the majority of Senate District S’s constituents.

Our District is over 2/3rds remote Villagers, almost entirely living below the poverty level. When Hoffman bought a house in Anchorage in 2015, Hoffman and his wife quickly graduated into turning their home in Bethel into nothing but a summer subsistence camp for basically three months a year. He shows up in June, then disappear to Anchorage in September or at the latest the first week of October.

By disappearing to Anchorage, he robbed his voters of what the law calls “grocery store encounters” which courts have deemed one of the most important encounters a voter can have with an elected official. It may only be a 30 second encounter, but for the average person it gives you the opportunity to say and convey something as short and sweet as, “don’t ever steal my PFD again”.

Since Hoffman quit going to Villages over twenty years ago and never holds a townhall meeting, moving to Anchorage four months a year has in effect totally isolated the common voter from direct interaction with him. Which is exactly opposite of the intent of the law, WHICH IS TO HAVE A LEGISLATOR LIVE IN THE DISTRICT THEY ARE ELECTED TO REPRESENT!!

The five of us figured this is another slap in the face. You know, like follow the Statutory Formula for the PFD or return unspent, undedicated funds back to the CBR or maybe pay the PFD from the ERA, instead of funding it from every department in the State.

When Hoffman filed a letter of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) I called the Division of Elections for precise instructions. The precise instructions were relayed. I listed my complaint for disqualification.

Tundy Rodgers, Bobby Hoffman, Greg Hoffman, Fritz Charles and myself represent close to TWO HUNDRED YEARS in public service to the YK Delta and the State. Three retired National Guardsman, Bethel City Council, ONC council, Calista Board, BNC Board, fish and game boards, VFW and American Legion, along with support for numerous charities and nonprofits over the last 60 years.

I was informed that we would be under oath when testifying to the Director of Division of Elections … sadly we weren’t deemed relevant to any determination for Hoffman’s residency requirements. Not so much as one phone call from the State. Instead of investigating (more), they said no politician lies and declared that where they register to vote and where their address for claiming a PFD is, is your legal residence, even though it went to court in Alaska that “where you lay your head” is legal definition for your residence.

SO, now we’re at the court of public opinion. When, every year Hoffman celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, without returning to Bethel. With maybe the exception of a day a month for a (private) corporation board meeting (mostly Zoom now), totaling in the neighborhood of 4 straight months, why didn’t the State do its job and disqualify Lyman Hoffman?

Willy Keppel can be reached via email at [email protected]