Legislative races on Tuesday's ballot
Voters in the Chilkat Valley will cast ballots for candidates for the Alaska Legislature, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. President in Tuesday’s statewide election. They’ll also help decide the fate of a $453 million statewide bond issue that contains $15 million for Haines harbor improvements.
Polling stations are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Bald Eagle Foundation, Klehini Valley Firehall and Klukwan ANS Hall.
Incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, faces challenger Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka, 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.
Kreiss-Tomkins, 23, is a lifelong Sitka resident and recent graduate of Yale University. Thomas, 65, is a commercial fisherman who has served eight years in the state House of Representatives and is co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
Kreiss-Tomkins says the race is about oil taxes, fiscal responsibility and education. Thomas cites his experience, committee position and record of providing for his district.
In a mailing this week, Kreiss-Tomkins said Thomas directed $2 million in state money to buy free plane tickets to Anchorage to watch a college basketball tournament. In an interview, Kreiss-Tomkins said Thomas was the prime sponsor of the legislation that he called an “atrocious precedent.”
“What’s next, free tickets to a cribbage tournament?” Kreiss-Tomkins asked.
Thomas said he didn’t put the request into the capital budget but knew about the program through his position on the finance committee. “I saw his flier that said I spent $2 million on this. I did not,” Thomas said.
Kreiss-Tomkins also faults Thomas for supporting a proposed $2 billion tax break for the oil industry that provided no assurance the industry’s savings would be reinvested in the state. He calls it a giveaway. He said he supports a “give and take” with the industry.
Thomas has distanced himself from the vote, saying he later learned that legislators were working from erroneous information.
“We reacted to what we thought were the facts at the time… We have to incentivize an increase in production. I don’t think it’s going to be $2 billion. I voted for it, but that bill’s dead now,” Thomas said.
Kreiss-Tomkins said Thomas “flat-funded” education by not supporting increases in the base student allocation for districts. Thomas said he supported a bill that provided funds for vocational education and school energy and transportation.
Thomas has said he wouldn’t support increasing the base allocation until he sees results of a pending statewide study on education.
Thomas said capital needs are still important in the district and that as a member of the House minority, Kreiss-Tomkins’ ability to secure funds would be limited, were he elected. “Hopefully, people will realize what’s to their benefit. It’s time to think about the district,” Thomas said.
Thomas said a representative on a low-ranking committee wouldn’t be able to serve the district as well.
Kreiss-Tomkins said “a lot of the position of a legislator is being an at-large advocate for their district by supporting individuals and local governments. That’s really important work and it doesn’t matter what caucus you belong to.”
Kreiss-Tomkins has 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.
Thomas has 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.
Thomas said his capital outlays have come at the request of communities and he’s proud of legislation he’s sponsored that have benefitted veterans and created jobs.
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. 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.
Both Kookesh and Stedman have been members of the bipartisan coalition that’s held power in the Senate and both opposed Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed $2 billion oil industry tax cut. Both support increasing the base student allocation to schools and extending the legislative session to 120 days.
Kookesh said there are only two differences between him and Stedman: That he’s a stronger supporter of education than Stedman, and that he supports a bill for allowing state employees to receive direct benefits instead of a 401K package.
The bill would allow employees to pay into a traditional retirement program. “It’s one way to keep people in Alaska. I like the idea that you’re investing in the state and the state is investing in you.”
Kookesh also supports taking a portion of the permanent fund to create a state endowment for education.
Stedman said the difference between he and Kookesh is that he has a more impressive record of getting things done. “It’s easy to support stuff. It’s another to deliver it,” Stedman said.
He cites his work establishing a harbor grant fund, a ferry replacement fund, a library replacement fund and work rewriting the education formula for rural Alaska. “Our records aren’t comparable. I don’t know how else you say it,” Stedman said.
Both Kookesh and Stedman cited the need to bring down energy costs in rural areas, including through development of hydroelectric sources.
Kookesh said 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.
“Roads are going to be planned and built but we need a ferry system that works and we need new ferries,” Kookesh said.
Stedman 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.
Stedman 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.”
After energy, constituents are most worried about liveable-wage jobs, Stedman said.
Speaking at the Haines Chamber of Commerce banquet Oct. 13, Stedman said state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, was almost exclusively responsible for state capital funding here.
“(Kookesh) did not deliver virtually anything to this community. It’s been Bill Thomas,” Stedman said.
Kookesh rebutted that characterization. “That would be a true statement if only two people in the state Legislature decided who got all the money.” In actuality, capital requests go to Finance committee chairs, who consult with individual legislators about how the money will be spent, Kookesh said.
“Bill and I met together several times in the past year to decide on capital spending. It’s not like Bill made that decision by himself,” Kookesh said.
Kookesh said his Senate district, before recent redistricting, had 129 communities and included portions of Interior Alaska. “It was my job to try to get a project for every community. There was more to my Senate district than Southeast Alaska. I had to rely on Bill to a certain extent to make sure project came through. That’s what the Legislature is all about.”