Joni Bruner and the Art of Alaskan Politics

It’s a cliche: “Alaskan politics is never boring”, however, only real time experience knocking doors and passing out campaign literature will teach you how serious those five words are. Many an outside organizer, using techniques honed in rural Kansas or Texas, fail to penetrate the complex psychological mind of the average Alaskan voter. A one-platform-fits-all approach is bound to backfire. A person who wishes to master Alaskan politics must learn how to be consistently flexible.


On Saturday, September 16, 2018 Joni Bruner received the Lidia Selkregg Award for her outstanding service to the Club, which is echoed inside the community. She was dressed in deep, dark purple, a choice of color is characteristic of her. She is the self-proclaimed Queen of Purple. At 60 years old, she defies the paper-based calculations of outside political groups. Bruner is an influential political personality, who doesn’t in any way, shape or form fit the conventional mold.




On Monday, September 17, 2018 Senator Lisa Murkowski issued a statement supporting a delay in the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.


Bruner can smile reading the news articles of this development. Let’s explain why.


After ten years of health issues, once healed, Bruner set out to make up for lost time. Noticing her neighbors weren’t very politically active, or communicative, she decided to host block parties in 2013. I met her at one such block party in 2016. It came complete with an inflatable bounce toy designed to exhaust young children.  


From the block parties, she organized door-to-door canvassing for District 24 Democrats. Such activity is of an usual fervor. Most persons do not last one campaign season talking politics 24 hours a day. Both parties in Alaska know this. This makes Bruner creative leap that much more dangerous.


Two years ago she started working on a pet project. What if women took over political organizing and wove the different groups together into one, more effective, umbrella group?


Alaska Grassroots is an alliance of the many groups in Alaska working toward severasimilar goals,” Bruner said, fresh protesting Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation for the Supreme Court of the United States. “ The plan is to align the [smaller] groups and have larger turnout for issues that we have in common. Without reaching out to ALL people that have a same goal – such as equality or healthcare, we appear small and not as influential as we are as a larger group.”

For the past year, headquartered in Anchorage, Bruner and the Alaska Grassroots Alliance (AGA) have worked with the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), which is based in New York City. CPD consults and financially supports grassroots advocacy groups led by women and persons of color. Issue by issue, CPD seeks to empower those who feel their voices are being drowned out in the increasingly toxic national conversation.


On Monday, September 3, at 4:45 am Bruner along with Erin Jackson-Hill, a motley crew of Alaskan activists boarded Delta airlines. Not to be without controversy, Janice Park, who is running for office, was among them. Her presence brought into question campaign finance laws, ethics, lobbying and free speech. AGA landed at 11:30 pm.


Tuesday, September 4, AGA walked into Murkowski’s office late in the afternoon and secured an appointment for the following day.


Specifically, Bruner’s distaste for Kavanaugh lies in his position on health care.


“If not me, then who? I have had medical issues, and supported many folks trying to get medical assistance, and mental health for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I was helping one or two people at a time get care they needed, and felt that it was time to step up when I saw that I wasn’t the only one looking for help… it’s the whole country!”



The staff joyously booked her. This is the exact opposite reaction those who feel politicians are no longer human become confused over. Bruner’s tactics come across as too nice.




She defends herself with this argument, “I firmly believe in more “flies with honey” approach.  We are all doing our best at our jobs, and when we take the time to build relationships, people respond. How do you respond when someone is yelling at you or making you feel bad or worthless? I shut down and don’t want to help or even listen. I like to think that we all respond much better to helpful advice and discord, with some kind of solutions included.”


Towards that end, Bruner made a casual comment towards a recent poll circulating in activist circles. The Senator asked surprised, as if she had not seen this poll. Bruner thought Murkowksi   had already seen it. Surely the Senator’s staff had notified her? The gap in knowledge was easily fixed when Bruner brought a copy of the poll to Murkowski.


Conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc., 602 likely voters in 2018 answered the poll. Question number 11 reads as follows:


Suppose for a moment that your Senator, Lisa Murkowski, voted NOT to confirm Kavanaugh. Would Senator Murkowski’s vote NOT to confirm Kavanaugh give you a MORE favorable view of Murkowski, a LESS favorable view of her, or would it NOT change your thinking on Senator Murkowski? [n=602]

More favorable of Murkowski if voted not to confirm……………………….. 43%

Less favorable of Murkowski if voted not to confirm ………………………… 27%

Differential: More-Less …………………………………………………………… +16%

No change in view of Murkowski…………………………………………………… 27% DK/NS……………………………………………………………………………………….. 4%


Maybe Bruner’s approach, i.e. to treat Lisa Murkowski as a human being who is elected by other human beings into a governance position is too humane. Political opponents need Murkowski to become a monster when she disagrees with them. If so, their methods are not effective. Bruner’s is. When Murkowski saw her this time, the greeting was, “Oh, look, it is my friend, Joni.”


Yes, on Monday, when Sen. Murkowski stood to tell the American people her position, Alaskan activist, Joni Bruner was smiling. And, she is far from bored.


Words by Kokayi Nosakhere, who chooses to spend the majority of his time in search of magnificent minds. If you are one of them, please choose to reach out at royalstar907

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