JUNEAU, Alaska - Sharon Cissna wants to become Alaska's first Democrat to serve in the U.S. House in four decades.
If she wins - which appears to be a longshot, at best - the breast cancer survivor would face challenges that others in Congress only deem a nuisance. The diminutive great-grandmother gained national attention last year while serving in the state House when she refused a pat-down at a Seattle airport and had to use a variety of creative modes of transportation - rental car, ferry, small plane, cab - to return to Alaska.
If she beats Republican incumbent Rep. Don Young, the challenges will only begin for Cissna, who would need to travel between Washington, D.C. and Alaska regularly. Just a drive from her hometown of Anchorage to catch a plane out of Whitehorse, Canada, where security measures are different than in the U.S., can be about 14 hours. And she'd still have to take a bus, small plane or train from there, to get to Washington.</ P>
One can travel commercial from Anchorage to Washington in as little as 9 hours.
But Cissna sees a silver lining to her dilemma.
"I see more people than the average public officer holder," who simply flies, she said.
Cissna's motivation for getting involved in politics was a desire to give greater voice to the vulnerable. As a counselor, Cissna worked with families and troubled youth and wanted to make sure children - particularly those who were in the system or reliant on government programs - got the help they needed. She served 14 years in the state Legislature, all in the minority, and laments what she sees as a continued move away from preventative programs that build family and individual strength.
Last year while trying to return to the Legislature in Juneau from a medical visit to Seattle, Cissna unwittingly became the public face of frustration with the Transportation Security Administration when she refused a pat-down at an airport security gate . Cissna has said she underwent an "intensive physical search" months earlier and had vowed to never "submit to that horror again."
Her act of defiance sparked an outpouring of support, and since then she said she's received more than 2,000 calls, emails and letters from people sharing their own experiences. That's a major reason she decided to run for U.S. House: she feels this is a constitutional issue, that there isn't enough oversight of the TSA, an agency she sees as running amok, and the place to push back - to try to get results - is at the congressional level.
She said she and Young share concerns about TSA but she doesn't believe Young has done enough to seek change.
While traveling in the state campaigning, she said she and her husband make sure the routes "fit with the need to keep me from being touched inappropriately. What a tragedy for Alaskans to be going through the same thing."
Cissna, who is known for her soft tone of speech, said people tel l her "'you're the nicest person I know,' and I keep telling them, 'No, I'm not.' I have a side of me that's pretty darn firm, and I'm not going to step down to being abused, that's not something I'm going to allow to happen."
Cissna faces long odds; she hasn't gotten help from the national Democratic Party, and knows this isn't a key race, even in Alaska, where the focus has been on state Senate races. Her fundraising has been minuscule compared to Young, and she has done a lot of her campaign work from her home. She estimates she's visited 25 to 30 communities, and hopes to hit 15 t0 20 more before the Nov. 6 election. In addition, she's relying on the help of volunteers and the phone to spread her message.
Pollster Marc Hellenthal called the race a "big fizzle."
"There are no ads on TV, no literature or anything else as far as I can tell," said Hellenthal, who isn't working for either candidate, adding: "You'd have to spend a lot of money" to beat Young.
A look at Democratic U.S. House candidate Sharon Cissna, and a list of the other candidates in the race:
NAME: Sharon Cissna
SPOUSE: Sidney Atwood
DETAILS: One of the motivations for Cissna's run is her experience last year with the Transportation Security Administration at a Seattle airport. Cissna made national headlines for refusing a pat-down, which she considers an assault, and is seeking to take her fight against the agency - and for upholding individual constitutional rights - to Washington. She also said she will advocate for more economic opportunities for Alaskans.
QUOTE: On the pat-down experience and her run: "It makes you feel ashamed, it makes you wonder, 'What in the world is going on in my country?' So people have told me, over and over now, that they're really pleased that I'm running just to make this a public issue." Not everyone who's had the experience wants to tal k publicly about it, she said.
ALSO ON THE BALLOT: Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Don Young; Libertarian Jim McDermott, unaffiliated write-in candidates Clinton Desjarlais, Fletcher G. Fuller Jr. and Sidney I. Hill; and unaffiliated nominating petition candidate Ted Gianoutsos.