Lincoln takes the reins in Juneau
Kotzebue to capital is the trajectory this week for John Fagerstrom Lincoln, 36, House District 40's new representative.
"I know that serving in this role is an important responsibility and I'm extremely grateful for all the support I've received already," said Lincoln, speaking from his hometown on Sunday before catching a flight to Juneau and his new position, to which he was set to be sworn in on Wednesday.
It's a big — and rapid — shift for the state's greenest legislator.
After former Rep. Dean Westlake stepped down last year amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations, the Alaska Democratic Party scrambled to come up with a list of suitable replacements who would be able to step into the position for the district, which covers the North Slope, Northwest Arctic and portions of the Yukon-Koyukuk census area, by the start of the legislative session, which gaveled in Jan. 16.
The party's first three nominees, Sandy Shroyer-Beaver, Leanna Mack and Eugene Smith, were passed over by Gov. Bill Walker. The session began and the district was without representation in the House.
Finally, the governor confirmed he was looking at two additional candidates, Lincoln and Abel Hopson-Suvlu. About 24 hours after the names were made public, Walker announced he'd settled on Lincoln to fill the seat.
It's been a whirlwind of a week for Lincoln, who spent time packing and visiting with friends and family before his move down south. During that time, he also started talking to people he thinks might be helpful over the next year.
"My main focus right now is recruiting the most talented staff I can to work with me in the office and reaching out to people in the district," he said.
Once he reaches the capital, he'll have to hit the ground running, learning the ropes that will guide him through the rest of his term.
It will take a lot of work, but Lincoln plans to use his tech background to help him take a methodical approach.
"I think that there's other examples, but IT (information technology) is a good example of a systems approach to thinking. Understanding how systems work in the legislative process is something I need to learn, but I'm confident I can learn it because I've challenged myself with other types of systems and learning them and how they function and how to work with them," Lincoln explained. "I apply that type of thinking to it."
After graduating from Kotzebue High School, he pursued a degree in public policy and management science and engineering at Stanford University's Science, Technology and Society program.
He returned home and worked in IT with Maniilaq Association before shifting gears into what he describes as a "more public service-type role." He took up a position on the tribal council and also served on Maniilaq's board of directors for three years.
A little more than a year ago, he got a job with NANA Regional Corp. as its vice president of lands.
"I've been really busy and committed to that work since," he said.
In his off time, he's made a point of seeing the Northwest Arctic by air. After getting his pilot's license at the age of 18, Lincoln said he wasn't in the position to afford a plane until he and his sister Meagan went in together on a Cessna-172 a couple of years back.
"We've been using that to spend more time in the villages and connect with friends there," he said. "A friend of mine was in the hospital for a while. He's from Buckland. We made a trip there and took him some seal oil and a pack of steaks and visited him for a bit. Then we took a trip to Kivalina where an Elder wanted to look for his grandpa's old camping site. We flew to Kivalina and then flew with him in the mountains for a little bit looking for that. Last April, I joined a whaling crew in Point Hope and loaded up the plane with some shee fish and flew up there. The lead closed not long after I got there, but I got to help work on a whale and haul it back to town. That was a really great experience."
On the bucket list for this summer is a trip to Wainwright to get back in touch with people in his Ataata Rodney's hometown. His roots are spread across the Northwest Arctic and nearby areas. His Aana Doris came from Golovin, he said, and they settled in Kotzebue. His parents, Richard and Cindy, raised their kids in the same town.
He'll use that knowledge and history to inform him during his time in office, he said.
"First and foremost, as a lifelong resident of the district and the region (I have) just a deepend personal understanding of the importance of things like subsistence for our life here — the importance of schools in our communities and our villages and the health care system," he explained.
Protecting power cost equalization and the PFD also rank high on his list so far, though he said he'll develop priorities after he's had a chance to speak with others.
"I think before I start prioritizing, I want to start by hearing from constituents and leadership throughout the district," he said. "I have my own thoughts about what's important, but I don't want to make assumptions about what I should be focused on. I want to respect other leaders in the district and approach advocacy work in Juneau as a team effort."
That will be his strategy as a legislator, he said. He hopes to build strong relationships and stay grounded through his constituents.
"I think it starts by being open and available to people throughout the district," he said. "One of the first things I've started doing already is reaching out to leadership throughout the district, especially on the North Slope. I feel like I'm well-known and connected in the Northwest Arctic, but I need to make similar connections on the North Slope and I'm doing that and will continue to do that indefinitely."
After his first few days in office this week, his family will be joining him over the weekend. Once settled, his focus will be on bringing the needs of the Arctic to the fast-paced capital, a job he'll do with his community in mind.
"I feel like we're all in this together," said Lincoln. "It's a collective effort to represent and advocate for our interests in Juneau."