Lots of political candidates tout their background to try to make themselves special and unique, or at the very least memorable. But when Republican Anand Dubey, who's running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Lindsay Holmes on Anchorage’s west side, says, “There’s nobody running like me,” he’s actually understating things.
With less than a week before elections, candidates for the Alaska Legislature are talking about where they stand on oil taxes, abortion and school choice, to name a few issues. You’ll hear them talk about why and who inspired them to run for office. Alaska’s patriarchs—Wally Hickel, Jay Hammond and Bill Egan —are sometimes mentioned. Sometimes a candidate will even go so far as to talk about Jesus.
The 42-year-old Dubey, who came to Anchorage from India 12 years ago, is as capable as any of this state’s politicians at regurgitating his party’s talking points: he’s for lowering oil taxes, against abortion, pro school choice and vouchers. But he’s the only candidate whose wife is Hindu and will cook, but won’t eat, the moose that Dubey slays. He’s also, no doubt, the only candidate who will invoke Mahatma Gandhi when he talks about his campaign.
If elected, he'd be Alaska's first Indian legislator.
“If one leader acting like Gandhi can change the world,” he said on a recent afternoon, “one legislator can change the state.” Or at the very least, the way people campaign for office in the state.
Holmes is a tough candidate to take on. She’s a long-time Alaskan from a long-time Alaskan family. She’s a Democrat who can and often does work with Republicans. She’s smart and generally well-liked.
Dubey thinks he’s got a shot, however, if because of nothing else, he’s got a tool at his disposal, something that serves as a metaphor for his campaign: He’s got a program for that.
“It’s no easy task to take on an incumbent,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t be able to raise the same amount of money, and I knew that I wouldn’t have the support that she has.” And he knew that if he did it the way it’s normally done—through simple lists of voters in the district and, as some consultants suggested, using a taxicab map — that he’d lose. “Have you ever tried going door to door with a taxicab map?” he asked.
Republican of a different hue
What Dubey came up with is nothing technologically groundbreaking. Campaigns all over the country, including President Obama’s, are using a version of it. It’s basically a souped-up version of a map of his district, with each house colored yellow, green, or red. Yellow means that he, or someone in his campaign, has met a person. Green, that someone is enthusiastic about his campaign, and red is a no go. Other information: which party the household members belong to. Which undeclared is likely to lean his way or her way. Which lawns bare which campaign’s signs. Who signed their name to put parental consent on the ballot. Who supported and who opposed the recent contentious Coastal Zone initiative. Who smiled at the door. Who told him not to come back. Who he thinks he can get to the polls. After each house, the information is entered into his iPad and is available instantaneously to the other volunteers — mostly his wife, his 4-year-old child and his father.
Anyone can get this information through the Division of Elections. But not everyone has the know-how to overlay the data onto a district, and then onto some 6,100 houses, which contain roughly 13,000 voters.
It’s that kind of efficiency through technology that Dubey wants to encourage Alaska to employ.
Dubey is a Republican, for sure, but he’s less of an Alaska Republican than a Silicon Valley Republican. And like those Silicon Valley Republicans -- the ones who have actually written code -- he believes that the answer to much of what ails the world, and in this case, Alaska, rests in technology.
The fix for bloated, inefficient state government? Technology. Welfare moochers? Failing schools? How much to tax the oil industry? How to diversify Alaska’s economy? Incentivize high-tech businesses to come to Alaska, in the same way that the state has incentivized the film business.
For him, there’s a technological fix for all, if only state government would get with the program. That's a tall order in Alaska, with its army of entrenched, well-paid bureaucrats, many of whom associate code with Morse and who view change suspiciously.
Palin's high-tech 'Midas'
Dubey knows this well. Under former Gov. Sarah Palin, he was director of enterprise-technology services, where, whether it was trying to implement a real-time, work management system that would have done away with paper time sheets, or trying to integrate the various technological departments in state agencies, he ran against road blocks, he said.
He did have some success, however, perhaps too much success, he thinks. When Palin quit, and Parnell took over, “My Midas touch wasn’t good enough anymore,” he said.
As a legislator, he thinks he can have more impact than he did as a bureaucrat.
“I’d look to see what other states have done,” he said. “For instance, why has Utah been able to attract tech companies? What have other countries done? Why aren’t those companies coming here? Google could easily be here. Have any of our leaders picked up the phone and called Google and said, 'I'm from Alaska and I want your business here?' That's what I would do,” he said, before getting back to his color-coded map.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org