From the debate team to the Alaska House: An interview with Rep. Genevieve Mina

When you ask Representative Genevieve Mina (D – Anchorage) about her time spent on UAA’s Seawolf Debate, her eyes light up. The college’s world-renowned team, which has been matched up with institutions like Stanford and Harvard, helped incubate and encourage Mina, the freshman representative from East Anchorage’s House District 19.

“I love debate because it’s an activity that forces you to think about different perspectives,” Mina explained. “It’s not necessarily that someone is stupid, or someone is bad because they have these particular opinions. We come to our perspectives and our political ideologies based on our upbringing, the people around us, and our experiences.”

Entertaining different issues as part of the debate program – where topics and sides are assigned to team members – allowed Mina to expand her political perspective. She pointed to high school debate, in particular, as an activity that forced her to learn about different ideas and avoid being pigeonholed.

“What debate has given me is a lot of skills to take a step back, and think about why someone might have an opinion,” Mina said. “The other excellent skill it’s given me is the ability to step back from a conversation or heated discussion, and really identify common themes or common grounds.”

This ability to relate to her fellow legislators, Mina said, has served her well during caucus discussions. Now that the House is organized, she thinks there’s still ample opportunities for both majority and minority members to come together and find common ground. Mina ended up in the 15-member House minority after the House organized.

“A common goal for all of us is to be able to work together to preserve and grow Alaska in the long term,” Mina said. “A lot of [older legislators] in this building think about these long term goals in terms of their kids and grandkids, and making sure that they’re able to prosper and thrive and enjoy Alaska in the same way they have.”

For Mina, however, it’s more personal. Along with younger legislators like Representatives Josiah Patkotak (I – Utqiagvik), CJ McCormick (D – Bethel), and Ashley Carrick (D – Fairbanks), Mina feels that she’s part of the new generation of lawmakers who will actually be living through the consequences of their decisions in the next few decades.

Despite being one of the youngest members of the new Legislature, Mina doesn’t feel she’s been treated differently because of her age.

“The most awkward part is reintroducing myself to people I’ve interacted with [as a staffer for former Representative Ivy Spohnholz] in the building,” Mina said. “I used to work here, and now we’re colleagues!”

Mina was reticent to discuss the House’s coalition shakeup, saying only that, going into the process, she was ready to adapt to whatever happened.

“There’s a lot of power in the Legislature, whether you’re in the majority or in the minority,” Mina said. “You can do a lot of work in the minority, in terms of facing an uphill battle, being creative, and working with your colleagues.”

While growing up in what is now District 19 and attending East High, Mina said one of the things that impacted her the most was the diversity she experienced.

“Being able to grow up in our public schools … these are Title 1 schools where you have a lot of people living in low-income households,” Mina said. “When I think about a lot of issues that are impacting my district, I think about the friends that I had and a lot of trauma that people were facing at home.”

District 19 includes some of the poorest neighborhoods in Anchorage, and Mina is conscious of the way her decisions will affect her constituents, many of whom are vulnerable Alaskans.

“It’s so important we create stability and support for those people, who are really trying to survive and contribute to society,” Mina said.

One of the issues Mina wants to focus on during her time in the House is the “brain drain” Alaska faces. Investing in education and reforming the state pension program, she feels, are necessary to offer young Alaskan professionals a shot at staying in Alaska.

Additionally, Mina (one of the minority members on the Health and Social Services Committee) has three areas she plans to focus on while in office: healthcare costs, public transportation issues, and diversifying the state’s energy portfolio.

“We’re paying the highest cost [for healthcare] in the nation,” Mina said. “It’s astronomical the amount of dollars Alaskans are paying.”

Pedestrian friendly infrastructure – especially in District 19 – is another priority for Mina, as both Mountain View and Russian Jack contain the highest percentage of people without access to a car. As such, she believes public transportation and pedestrian options need to be safer and more readily accessible.

Mina’s third focus – diversified energy – comes as a result of her concern for the climate and for the state’s economy.

“Investing and growing our renewable energy sector helps our economy,” Mina said. “We can work on energy issues to ensure that costs are lower for Alaskans, but also invest in energy sectors that are better for our climate, good for our economy, and good for Alaskans.”

On the House floor, Mina has prefiled one bill – House Bill 23, which would designate October as Filipino American History Month.

“For a lot of Filipino-Americans, you feel very disconnected from your culture,” Mina said. “It’s hard to feel pride.”

If HB 23 passes, Mina hopes it will instill more cultural pride in Alaskan Filipino immigrants, who have been part of Alaska’s heritage for decades.

“I think there is so much value in celebrating the Filipino culture here… where we have made so many contributions to the state of Alaska over the past hundred-plus years,” Mina said. “It’s an invaluable way to recognize and honor that history.”

More broadly, Mina wants to involve traditionally underrepresented communities in the political process. As a younger representative, she hopes that she’ll be able to make politics more relatable and accessible.

“I know that my presence is just one step,” Mina said. “The work that I do is the next.”

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Lynn Willis
1 year ago

Good for her. A person skilled in debate and the art of persuasive oration is a welcome addition in Juneau. We need more with the ability to decide the public’s business in an open forum of debate instead of the usual “smoke filled backroom”.

1 year ago

Just what we need is more inexperienced politicians running our state government. Not like that has caused us problems in the past, you know what I’m saying?

1 year ago
Reply to  Ryan

How does one get experience as a politician without actually becoming one by being elected by her district? What do you want her to do? Be a legislative staffer?

Did you read that she was a legislative staffer prior to this term? Seems like she has more experience than many.

What we don’t need is more old, mostly white, career politicians continuing with the status quo that clearly isn’t working for many in this state

john rogers
1 year ago

Watch out Alaska – here’s comes your AOC

Jackie Cason
1 year ago

Great to see a person who truly represents her district and who is willing to entertain the ideas of others striving to represent their constituents. We need more people like Rep. Mina who can think beyond their own self interest.