When Democrat Mary Sattler Peltola went looking to hire a chief of staff, she chose someone with hands-on experience and a deep knowledge of her home state, Alaska. He was also a Republican. Alex Ortiz’s last job was serving in the same role for her predecessor, Don Young, a giant in the state who died in 2022 after setting a record for longest-serving Republican congressman in United States history.

And he wasn’t the only Republican who Representative Peltola put on her payroll after winning a special election in August to replace Mr. Young. The congresswoman’s scheduler, another Young veteran, and communications director also came with experience working in the conservative trenches. 

This is all but unheard of in the Capitol, where party loyalty can trump the most impeccable résumé. Indeed, colleagues in Washington asked Ms. Peltola if she were going to make her staff change their party affiliations. 

Why We Wrote This

Some 71% of Americans want Democrats and Republicans to work together. Could “the Alaska way” offer a path back toward moderation?

“That was very surprising,” she says in a phone interview, adding that the questioning “set me back on my heels a bit.” Representative Peltola explains that she hired these staffers for their in-depth knowledge of Alaska, of the inner workings of the Capitol, and of the federal bureaucracy. It was a practical decision, “common sense,” she says. “I would never ask somebody to change their party affiliation. We are all on the same team, but we’re all still autonomous people on our team.” 

For those Americans weary of polarization and its attendant lack of practicality, Alaska – which reelected Ms. Peltola to a full term in November, as well as moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski – is offering a new model. And it’s prompting questions about whether the “Alaska way” might be repeatable in other states.

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