‘I’ve gone through it’: Ketchikan man eyes Dan Sullivan’s U.S. Senate seat

Christopher Cumings of Ketchikan, pictured here in 2018, positions himself as a progressive candidate. (Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

A Ketchikan man is vying to be the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan in November. Chris Cumings has a colorful background but says he’d bring a strong voice for rural and disadvantaged Alaskans.

Chris Cumings is quick to acknowledge he doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional political candidate. But, he says, that’s kind of the point.

“The Alaska Democratic Party for the last 30 years has run […] the same kind of candidate with the same kind of ideas — with the same result,” he said in a phone interview.

Cumings presents himself as a fresh, though unconventional choice. He’s a 35-year-old law school dropout. And he’s open about his struggles with mental illness and addiction in his life.

“I get these issues — addiction or mental health or poverty or the social safety net. Like, I get those things not because I have professional experience — I have that lived experience, I’ve gone through it,” he said.

He’s running in the Democratic primary to challenge Al Gross, who he said fits a familiar mold for Alaska’s Democatic hopefuls.

“They’re either conservative democrats or they’re basically liberal Republicans,” Cumings said.

Cumings, on the other hand, positions himself as a progressive and a populist. He’s lived all over the state, he says, from Prince of Wales Island to the North Slope.

Cumings says too many politicians come from a place of privilege — wealthy, well-connected professionals.

“It’s about focusing on regular people and the least among us, those who are hurting, it’s about lifting people up who need help,” he said.

He said Alaska was already in economic trouble before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and residents need help from the federal government. He proposes a state-specific economic stimulus — an infrastructure package. Not roads, bridges or dams, per se, but social infrastructure.

“Looking at school as infrastructure, looking at health care, broadband, looking at something like daycare as infrastructure,” he said.

He said he’d also like to see federal rescue packages aimed at bolstering the University of Alaska and the Alaska Marine Highway System. That, he said, would go a long way towards attracting business investment.

Cumings said he has a unique perspective on issues affecting those on the margins of society: he’s frank about struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. He was recently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He says worked hard to overcome these challenges.

“Life is good today. I’ve been sober a couple years. The meds are working,” he said.

It’s not Cumings’ first time running for office. He won 8 percent of the vote in the 2018 Democratic primary race for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, Cumings said his campaign this time around will largely focus on social media and digital town halls.

He’s competing against Al Gross in the August 18 Democratic primary. The winner of that contest will challenge incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan in the general election.