Democrat hopes to unseat Young with ‘Medicare for all’ campaign


Dimitri Shein hopes to win the Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenger Congressman Don Young. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Anchorage entrepreneur Dimitri Shein is one of two main candidates in the Democratic primary for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat. The other is Alyse Galvin, whom we featured Wednesday.

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Though Shein has amassed serious campaign money, he is well behind Galvin in fundraising. He’s collected about $50,000 from donors, put in nearly that much of his own money, and loaned his campaign another $100,000. What makes him tick?

Shein was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Anchorage in 1993. He was 12. Shein says the experience helps him appreciate what makes America exceptional.

“American freedoms and values, like free press, independent judiciary. This belief and notion that no one is above the law, even the president of United States,” he said. “And now I see all these values under attack.”

Shein says America still sees itself as exceptional but somewhere along the line stopped working at it, stopped trying to solve its problems. He says anti-government rhetoric on the right helped set that stage.

“It seems to me that our current elected leaders have sold us on the notion that our government is completely worthless and cannot solve problems,” he said, “and to some extent (they say it) deserves to be attacked from abroad … and is being attacked internally by our elected leaders as well.”

Shein wants to turn that around. He’s running as a progressive. He takes inspiration from Sen. Bernie Sanders and has made “Medicare for all” the banner issue of his campaign. That would be a single-payer health care system, one that’s government-funded.

“In Alaska, we have the highest cost of health care and health insurance,” Shein said. “And to me it’s just obvious that a single-payer, Medicare for all-type system would benefit Alaska enormously.”

Shein thinks it will save money, citing a study that says Medicare for All could cost $2 trillion less over a decade than the total Americans and their government spend now on health care. Others say that conclusion is based on best-case scenarios. The website Politifact.com rated the claim half true.

Shein doesn’t think a special health care tax is needed, but he does want to repeal parts of last year’s tax legislation that cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations.

Some within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party have called themselves “Democratic Socialists.” Shein doesn’t.

“I think that term is fine,” he said. “I myself am a pretty successful capitalist so I think it would be hard for me to call myself that.”

Shein worked as an accountant for years, balancing the books for tribes around the state. Now, he’s an e-commerce entrepreneur. He sells a metal planter, called the “nice planter,” online.

He met his wife, Melissa, when they were students at West High. She became a doctor and now works at Southcentral Foundation. They were a family of four but they recently doubled in size after taking in four sisters who needed a home.

All of them, except Shein himself, get single-payer health care, through the Native health system, and Shein is a big fan. Critics of publicly-funded health care often say it will lead to rationing of expensive services. Shein says there’s proof to the contrary.

“I just say go to Tudor and Diplomacy Drive and look at Alaska Native Medical Center,” he said. “Nothing is rationed. People walk in there and get the best health care in the world. That’s the way it should be.”

But for most Americans, “we’re rationing health care based on money,” Shein said. “Based on cost. So there are people who are being denied health care because they are not able to pay.”

If Democrats take the House, there will likely be a move to reverse course on development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and close it to drilling. Shein says he won’t support it unless it’s accompanied by other programs or spending that will make up for the jobs Alaska would lose if development isn’t allowed.

If Shein wins the Democratic primary, he’ll be on the ballot in November to vie for Rep. Don Young’s seat. If Shein loses the primary, he says he will not seek to get on the ballot for the general by other means.

Alyse Galvin, an independent candidate vying for the Democratic nomination, says the same. It means they won’t split the Democratic vote as they try to unseat Young.

Also running in the Democratic primary are Christopher Cumings of Ketchikan, who says he wants to raise awareness of addiction and suicide, and Carol Hafner, who lists a South Dakota address and says she opposes drilling in ANWR. Cumings and Hafner have reported no campaign spending.

The primary is Tuesday, Aug. 21.