A political showdown in Alaska is bringing up the worst memories of my life, and I am here for all of it.
I live in New Hampshire. It doesn’t make sense for me to pay attention to a mid-term primary in one of the farthest states from where I live, but when a good friend from high school told me about what’s heating up in Alaska I had to check it out. I am horrified, yet I can’t look away. Lisa Murkowski’s Senate seat is vulnerable to the wife of a former high school friend — emphasis on the word former. I am simultaneously throwing up in my mouth and eagerly looking forward to the debates.
Donald Trump is butthurt over losing the 2020 election. So much so that he is taking it out on Senator Lisa Murkowski. Why? Because Murkowski would not pretend that the election was stolen. Murkowski bucked her party to support Trump impeachment #2 after he incited a violent insurrection on January 6th. Now he is throwing his support against her mid-term primary challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, Alaska’s commissioner of the Department of Administration as of 2019.
I am not surprised that Kelly Tshibaka has a proclivity for speaking in tongues. I went to high school with her husband and they seem to share a certain zeal for radical Christian beliefs (more on that story below). She is an ultra-conservative who doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state. She is more interested in creating access to faith healings than she is in creating access to health care. She supports gay conversion therapy and is proudly “pro-life”. While Tshibaka is an Alaska native, she has spent the majority of her adult life in the Washington DC metro area. She’s been back in Alaska for all of a minute and now she wants Alaskans to send her back to Washington to represent them in the Senate.
Tshibaka sets herself apart from Murkowski by being Trump’s yes woman. She supports Trump’s dangerous lie that the election was rigged. The riot incited by that lie resulted in the death of one Capitol Police officer. Since January 6th, four other Capitol Police officers have taken their own lives. Officer Aquilino Gonell told a special committee that the fighting at the Capitol on January 6th was worse than the fighting in Iraq. Trump’s Republicans continue to gaslight these brave men and women in uniform by saying it wasn’t that bad. It’s interesting that the “Law and Order” President and his base care so little about the Capitol Police. I guess that is where they draw a thin blue line in the sand.
When Tshibaka threw her hat in the ring in April, she polled strongly against the incumbent Senator. Yet, last week Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said that she has never heard of Kelly Tshibaka. New polls show that Murkowski has a slight lead against the up and comer. Alaska runs non-partisan primaries, which means these two will be running against each other until the general election on November 8, 2022. Until then, we can expect a lot of back and forth.
Seeing the Tshibaka name in the news brings back some of the worst memories of my life. When I was 13 my family moved to another country where I attended a new school for the next three years. That is where I met Niki Tshibaka. Of all of my classmates, Niki was particularly welcoming and we became friends. He loaned me his Christian hip-hop cassette tapes, and I tried to keep an open mind. I listened to them and I promptly gave them back. The next summer he invited me to a group hang at the local Burger King with some of his church friends. I didn’t know that I would be subjected to confrontational evangelism by a tribunal of Born-Again Christian teenagers. One of them asked me “if you were to die today do you know for certain that God would let you into heaven?” Then the rest of the group waited for me to answer that question for them to decide if I was worthy of getting into heaven. To lighten the mood, I asked “Do you think when I go to heaven my cat will be there?”
I can’t remember exactly what Niki said to me over the phone after I met his church friends, but basically, he told me that they thought I needed to spend more time examining my spiritual priorities.
Niki fancied himself as a pastor. He ultimately became one. Looking back, it’s ironic that I prayed a lot during the time when we were classmates. Mostly I prayed that my life would end. I prayed that I would find the best possible way to make that happen. Granted, he didn’t anonymously call my house to say obscene things and hang up on me. He didn’t write “I hate everything about bitchy Beth Ropp” on a lunchroom table. He didn’t turn into a mean girl and stop talking to me when I was cast as the lead in the high school musical. He didn’t tell my first boyfriend to dump me and then gloat when I got dumped. I could go on and on. As I said, these were some of the worst years of my life. Niki was a different kind of tormentor. He wanted to be my closest personal confidant. He demanded to know every single private thought that ran through my head. If I didn’t tell him everything, then according to him, I wasn’t a good friend. Since he was friends with everyone, he knew what our other classmates said about me and he would hold that knowledge over my head. I grew more and more uncomfortable with his demands and yet guilty for not giving in and letting him control me.
And to top it all off, he convinced me to throw away my Ouiji board.
My parents did not believe me when I said that I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. After all, in their minds, we were such good friends. I dissolved into sobs and begged them not to make me talk to Niki. They were shocked when they wrapped their heads around what was happening. My parents intervened. They watched Niki’s father explained to him what peer pressure is. Niki and I agreed to keep each other at a distance. Even from a distance, I clearly recall overhearing him talk about pressuring other classmates into joining his particular brand of Jesus cult, of which his parents were devout believers.
Years after high school, Niki kept in touch with everyone. He liked keeping tabs on what everyone was up to before social media made that information easily available. He called my parents’ home pretending to have the wrong number (something he did even when we were in high school). When my mother realized it was Niki on the phone they spoke for a while. He told her that he was working for a conservative think tank in Washington DC. In 2010, one of my dearest high school friends passed away at the age of 33. Always self-aggrandizing, Nosey Niki reached out to me and the rest of our classmates asking us to submit our condolences directly to him so that he could personally deliver them to the family at the funeral. I blasted Niki for his performative gesture telling him that he is a phony friend and a phony Christian.
This leads me back to Kelly Tshibaka’s Senate run. Many Evangelicals believe that Trump, a reality TV star and real estate tycoon who sleeps with porn stars, is here to bring on the end times. I am going out on a limb to say that Kelly and Niki Tshibaka are probably among these believers. I guess supporting Trump’s efforts to bring on the rapture means turning a blind eye when he lies and spews violent rhetoric from the bully pulpit. I guess when his devotees scream “Kill him with his own gun” at Officer Micheal Fanone, they are really saying “Love thy neighbor” in tongues. I guess Trump supporters regard the tragic suicides of Officers Howard Liebengood, Jeffery Smith, Kyle deFreytag, and Gunther Hashida as just minor casualties of the Second Coming.
It is not for me to ask The Tshibakas what they will say if and when they stand before God at the gates of Heaven. It’s no one’s business. I am just glad that I am still here, still living my life. Until November 2022 I’ll be keeping an eye on Alaska’s midterms elections. I’ll grab the popcorn popper, olive oil, and sea salt when it’s time to stream the debates. And I will do so from a very safe distance.