Kelly Tshibaka burst onto the national political stage in 2021 when she announced her campaign to unseat incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s 2022 election. A relative newcomer, Tshibaka presented herself as a conservative ‘MAGA’ alternative to the moderate and independent-minded Murkowski. With an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, Tshibaka became emblematic of the broader Republican intraparty divisions. However, her attempt to bring down Murkowski fell short, with the incumbent prevailing in the state’s ranked choice voting election. This article will explore Tshibaka’s background, her 2022 Senate campaign, political views, and what’s next for her rising career.
Early Life and Education
Kelly Tshibaka (nee Hart) was born in 1969 in the state of Washington. Her father was an immigrant from Federated States of Micronesia who served in the U.S. Army. She grew up moving around frequently as part of a military family, living in places like Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, and Hawaii.
Tshibaka attended Texas A&M University, graduating in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She went on to pursue a law degree at Harvard Law School, completing her Juris Doctor in 2002.
After law school, Tshibaka spent time working in various arms of federal government. Her early career includes serving as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General and as an attorney at the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General from 2002-2005.
She later worked in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2005-2008 and served a stint as Acting Inspector General of the Federal Trade Commission in 2008-2009.
From 2009-2019, Tshibaka held various roles at the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, including Assistant Inspector General for Audit and Chief Data Officer.
Alaska Department of Administration
In 2019, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy appointed Tshibaka to lead Alaska’s Department of Administration, a cabinet-level position. As Commissioner, she oversaw core administrative functions of state government including information technology, personnel management, libraries, public buildings, and procurement.
Tshibaka focused on reforming Alaska’s public employee health insurance plans and reorganizing the information technology department during her tenure. She cites saving taxpayers over $30 million through health insurance reforms as one of her major achievements as Commissioner.
2022 Senate Campaign
In March 2021, Tshibaka resigned from the Dunleavy administration to launch her campaign against incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the 2022 election. Running as a conservative ‘MAGA Republican,’ Tshibaka sought to appeal to the right-wing of Alaska’s GOP.
She lambasted Murkowski as an ‘enabler’ of the Biden administration’s policies, citing Murkowski’s bipartisanship and moderate political views. Tshibaka pledged to fight federal overreach, advance pro-energy policies, restrict abortion access, and support border security.
In June 2022, Tshibaka secured a major endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Trump had vowed to campaign against Murkowski ever since she voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial.
In Alaska’s nonpartisan primary on August 16, Tshibaka placed second behind Murkowski 45% to 38%. The top four finishers, including Democrat Patricia Chesbro, advanced to the November general election.
Alaska deployed ranked choice voting for the first time in 2022, replacing partisan primaries. Under the new system, voters could rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate secured a majority of first-place votes, the last place candidate would be eliminated and votes redistributed until one candidate reached 50%.
Murkowski and Tshibaka were considered the main contenders, with Tshibaka running to the right of the incumbent. Tshibaka campaigned on themes of limiting government, advancing conservative policies, and criticizing Murkowski’s track record. She positioned herself as the ‘America First’ candidate who would bring real change to Washington.
In the initial vote tally on November 8, Tshibaka won 45.7% of first choice votes versus 42.8% for Murkowski. After nine rounds of eliminations and vote transfers, Murkowski eventually crossed the 50% threshold to win re-election. The final result was 53.7% for Murkowski and 46.3% for Tshibaka.
Relationship with Trump and GOP
Tshibaka’s alliance with Trump and far-right stances established her as representative of the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party. Her campaign exemplified the GOP’s internal divisions between Trump loyalists and establishment or moderate members like Murkowski.
Tshibaka asserted Murkowski was out of touch with Alaska voters given Trump’s popularity in the state. She criticized the incumbent for often siding with Democrats, supporting bipartisanship, and opposing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
By trying to take down Murkowski, Tshibaka also got embroiled in the broader national dynamics within the Republican Party. Her campaign showcased Trump’s ongoing influence and the MAGA movement’s attempt to purge the GOP of dissenting voices.
Political Views and Positions
Throughout her 2022 campaign, Tshibaka emphasized staunch conservative policies across a range of issues:
Economy and Jobs
Tshibaka advocated for lower taxes, reduced government regulation, and aggressive development of Alaska’s natural resources. She supported expanding oil and gas drilling as well as mining projects. Tshibaka also called for infrastructure upgrades to bolster Alaska’s economy.
A vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Tshibaka favored repealing and replacing Obamacare with free market solutions. On social issues, she took a hardline stance against abortion, calling for a ban on abortions after 6 weeks.
Foreign Policy and National Security
Tshibaka supported bolstering border security and opposed sanctuary city policies. She advocated for tougher policies to curb illegal immigration. Tshibaka also pushed for strengthening America’s military and called for more domestic energy production to counter Russia.
On education, Tshibaka favored school choice policies and saw parents as having primacy in curriculum decisions. She supported term limits for Congress and opposed expansive federal spending packages. Tshibaka expressed skepticism of climate change policies that she sees as anti-business.
Kelly Tshibaka met her husband Alan in college at Texas A&M. They have five children together. Tshibaka has been open about surviving domestic violence earlier in her marriage before getting divorced and remarrying her husband.
She has spoken about her Christian faith guiding her values and work. Outside of politics, Tshibaka enjoys outdoors activities like hiking, running, and hunting. She is an avid dog lover.
While she came up short in her Senate bid, Kelly Tshibaka’s performance established her as a rising star on the right and potential future candidate in Alaska politics. The 2022 race gained national attention as a proxy for broader dynamics within the Republican Party. Tshibaka embodied the Trump-aligned wing with her policy stances and outsider branding.
Looking ahead, Tshibaka appears well-positioned to stay involved in Alaska politics given her name recognition and popularity with the GOP base. At just 53 years old, there is ample opportunity for Tshibaka to mount another campaign for state-wide office. Her next moves will be closely watched given the critical role Alaska plays in the battle for control of the narrowly divided U.S. Senate.
Who is Kelly Tshibaka?
Kelly Tshibaka is an Alaskan Republican politician who ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2022, losing to incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski. She previously served as Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Administration from 2019-2021.
What is Kelly Tshibaka’s background?
Tshibaka was born in Washington state in 1969. She earned degrees from Texas A&M University and Harvard Law School. Her early career included working in various arms of federal government including the Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s office.
Why did Kelly Tshibaka run against Lisa Murkowski?
Tshibaka challenged the more moderate Murkowski from the right in the 2022 election. She criticized Murkowski’s bipartisan approach and specific votes like convicting Trump during his second impeachment. Tshibaka branded herself as the true conservative ‘MAGA’ candidate.
How did Kelly Tshibaka do in the 2022 Senate election?
Tshibaka lost to incumbent Murkowski after advancing from the nonpartisan primary. She garnered 46.3% of the vote under Alaska’s ranked choice voting system compared to 53.7% for Murkowski.
What are Kelly Tshibaka’s political views?
Tshibaka took conservative stances favoring lower taxes, gun rights, restrictions on abortion, increased domestic energy production, tightened border security, and repealing Obamacare.
What’s next for Kelly Tshibaka after her Senate defeat?
Given Tshibaka’s strong performance and name recognition, she is well-positioned to continue being influential in Alaskan politics and run for office again soon. She gained a significant profile as part of the Trump wing of the GOP.