Two candidates for Haines Borough Assembly fielded questions at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Aug. 30, with topics ranging from the potential Constantine mine to why there are so few candidates for assembly.
Official candidate George Campbell and write-in Mario Benassi took turns answering questions from chamber president Barbara Mulford before the floor was opened up to the audience.
(At the time of the chamber lunch, only Campbell and Benassi had filed for office. Resident Diana Lapham last week announced her candidacy as a write-in.)
Mulford stuck with business questions, including how the two would define economy and where they would prioritize economic development on their respective to-do lists.
Campbell and Benassi diverged in their opinions when asked by resident Carol Tuynman whether they would support penning a Good Neighbor Agreement with Constantine Metal Resources. A Good Neighbor Agreement is a contract – often legally binding – between a business and community outlining responsible development of a project.
Benassi said such an agreement is “incredibly important” and “absolutely critical.” “It may be the only way that the community can actually interface with the mine,” he said.
Campbell, on the other hand, didn’t see why Constantine should be held to a different standard than any other business trying to operate in the borough.
“I don’t believe that the Constantine mine or Tlingit Ink Productions or Sockeye Cycle should be treated any differently. We have laws on the books. If Constantine mine can come forward and say we can meet all these rules and regulations and we can meet all the borough codes and all that – and we can do this without destroying the environment – they should be treated just like any other business,” Campbell said.
Mayor Stephanie Scott asked the two candidates what differences they hoped to make on the assembly, if elected. Benassi said he would like to facilitate more conflict resolution, while Campbell said he’d like to bring more common sense to the table so the borough stops wasting time on issues that already have been resolved.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel asked how Campbell and Benassi view the role of assembly members; if they believe they are elected to represent a community or to carry out their own vision or ideas. Both agreed they are elected to represent the entire constituency, although they acknowledged sometimes that isn’t possible.
“You got elected because they like your ideals,” Campbell said. “When all else fails, go with what you feel is right and do the best you can, and that’s all that people can expect from you.”
Resident Thom Ely asked if the candidates would attribute the low number of candidates to the current government’s level of dysfunction.
Campbell said the government has been “bogged down” recently by certain issues, but attributed the lack of candidates more toward the level of scrutiny and attack they are placed under.
“I think we have a lot of people that aren’t running because they’re not willing to stand up and put themselves through the wringer. I’m just stubborn enough to be willing to stand up and take it,” he said.
Benassi agreed, and said the mud-slinging turns off a lot of otherwise interested candidates. “It’s a tough deal... It’s not for everybody.”