Legislative candidates unopposed in primary
Major party candidates vying to represent Haines in the Alaska Legislature have no opponents in Tuesday’s primary election.
Incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, will face challenger Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka, in November’s statewide election to represent House District 34.
Incumbent state senators Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, will face off to represent Haines in state Senate District Q, one of two Senate seats representing Southeast Alaska.
Both districts were reshaped by redistricting this year. The CVN interviewed candidates in recent weeks.
Kreiss-Tomkins, 23, is a lifelong Sitka resident and recent graduate of Yale University.
Kreiss-Tomkins said he’s running because he cares about Southeast and that by serving, he can be effective for the region.
Constituent concerns include a feeling of being forgotten in the small villages, he said. In places like Haines, Craig and Sitka, concerns center on good schools and economic opportunity, he said.
Kreiss-Tomkins said said he’d like to see state policy geared more toward the future. “Education is the future of our communities and I think my opponent and I have different perspectives on the priority public education has in our communities,” he said.
Education struggles, in part because funding currently isn’t keeping up with inflation, he said. He also said he supports forward funding of education.
He said he supports taxing the oil industry and said Thomas would dismantle the ACES oil tax regime. “Private industry deserves a fair return on its investment and Alaskans deserve a fair share of the profits. We own the oil. It’s a public resource that deserves a public return.”
He said he opposes Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed $2 billion oil industry tax cut. “I think that’s Alaska’s fair share… Oil is education. Oil is repairing streets and doing sidewalks. To surrender Alaska’s oil revenues is to defund the future of Alaskan communities… Bill (Thomas) has been a great advocate for Haines by bringing home the bacon, but he’s shrinking the pig. I care about Haines in two years but I also care about Haines in 50 years.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said the issues in the district are “local and fundamental.” “They’re not Republican versus Democrat issues. I love knocking on the doors of Republicans as much as Democrats.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said he brings a work ethic to the job. “There’s a universal quality of hard work in anything in life. I have many shortcomings but I work very hard. I work as hard as I can.”
Bill Thomas, 65, is a commercial fisherman who has served eight years in the state House of Representatives.
Thomas said he’s running because he’s in a position of leadership and can help the region. The House leadership gives guidance to the majority caucus and meets frequently with the governor, he said.
Thomas said the main constituent concern is the rising costs of energy and the need for more and cheaper electricity. Accomplishments he cites include helping fund ferry replacements and the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund that provides $50 million per year; the fund was recently extended 10 years.
He authored and recently clarified legislation banning texting while driving in Alaska and said he s proud of bills he’s submitted benefitting veterans and securing funding for a veterans’ home in Haines.
He said he co-sponsored legislation with Stedman to create the state matching grant program for harbors. “Communities have received a lot of capital grants since I’ve been elected,” he said, but said he works at the direction of communities in securing funds.
He also cited work on getting a waiver to the governor’s performance scholarship program for rural students. “In rural Alaska, you can’t get all the course requirements. Without (taking) required courses, we still have many students who can succeed.”
Thomas has opposed increases in the base student allocation for education. “What we heard from school districts was energy was eating them alive. So instead, we did a grant for energy, busing and (vocational education).”
Before increasing the allocation, he said he wants to see the results of upcoming study on public education in Alaska.
He said he’s proud of budget increases for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Any money we put into ASMI only helps Alaska in the future,” he said.
Thomas said he has mixed feelings on the coastal zone management initiative, partly because Native corporations were left out of drafting it. “We permitted every major mine in Alaska with (the coastal management process), but it does take time. I can live with it or live without it.”
Thomas said he supported relaxing taxes on the oil industry because he was concerned about projections that without enough oil, the trans-Alaska pipeline couldn’t operate. Some of those figures were erroneous, he said. “We reacted to what we thought were the facts at the time.”
But the state needs to address decreasing oil production, he said. “We have to look at how to increase production. Whether it’s Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins or me, we can’t continue to do what we’re doing. We need something for an oil bill.”
Albert Kookesh, 62, is an attorney and businessman who has worked as a fisherman and has served eight years in the Senate. He chairs the Senate transportation committee.
He said he’s running because he enjoys working with people and believes in a citizen legislature. “A lot of things still need to happen in Southeast.”
The top constituent concern, particularly in small towns, are energy costs and education funding. He notes that he’s endorsed by the National Education Association. He also wants to see the state return to a pension-retirement system instead of a 401k program.
“Roads are going to be planned and built but we need a ferry system that works and we need new ferries,” he said.
He said he’s willing to give tax incentives to the oil industry if that money is spent on exploration or development. “I’m willing to have that sit down with them but we can’t give the state’s money away without a guarantee.”
Education funding is his top priority, he said, and he wants to inflation-proof the legislature’s base student allocation. He also supports taking a portion of the permanent fund to create an education endowment.
Kookesh said he’s concerned that Southeast get a proportionate share of money for energy projects and said almost every town in the district besides Hoonah and Kake have available hydroelectric sources.
Kookesh wants to see the state’s power cost equalization program – which subsidizes residential power rates in rural areas – extended to businesses, schools and health clinics.
He also supports extending the legislative session to 120 days.
Bert Stedman, 56, operates a financial service company and has served nine years in the senate. He’s co-chair of the Senate finance committee.
Stedman said he ran for the legislature initially out of concern for Sitka and the region’s economy. “I’m not finished. The population trends look better in some of our towns… but I’ve still got projects I want to move forward.”
Constituents are mostly concerned about energy availability and liveable wage jobs, he said.
Accomplishments he cites include securing funds for energy projects, funding for Alaska-class ferries, road rebuilding and expansion projects, and a matching grant fund for harbors statewide.
He said he also helped bring clarity to the appropriations process through the capital project submission information system (CAPSIS). “You just can’t throw things in there from the tavern, which unfortunately was the practice in the past. Somebody has to put their name on the project.”
He is also proud of large capital budgets he said have buffered effects of a slowing economy. “The state of Alaska can easily absorb $3 billion in capital projects a year.”
Stedman opposed Gov. Parnell’s proposed reduction of taxes on the oil industry, but said the issue is more complex than lowering taxes to get more oil. It also involves regulations, world economics and North Slope capacity limitations.
With oil at $90 per barrel, the state’s tax is fair, but when it climbs toward $140, not enough profit is shared with the industry, he said.
However, the state also is paying about $1 billion annually to the oil industry in oil and natural gas tax credits, he said.
“The industry has concerns that have to be fixed. The state has an interest in structural issues. But it’s one thing to give the gas away. It’s another thing to pay them to take it,” he said.
Stedman said he supports increasing the education base student allocation and extending the legislative session to 120 days. He also supports a modified version of Parnell’s “Roads to Resources” plan, including a road from Kake to Kupreanof, one to Katlian Bay on Baranof Island and short section on Gravina Island to access minerals.
On the question of the Juneau Road, he said he’d follow the direction of local leaders.