Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the Kenai Peninsula Borough planning group that Shawn Butler has served on.
Two candidates — Ben Carpenter of Nikiski and Shawn Butler of Hope — have filed so far for the Alaska House of Representatives seat that current Representative Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) expects to vacate after November’s election.
Chenault is planning a run for governor and said he doesn’t intend to seek re-election for the House District 29 seat he’s held since 2001.
The list of candidates for the August 21 primary election will be final after June 1. Carpenter has filed to run in the Republican Party primary and Butler as a nonpartisan candidate in the Democratic Party primary, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.
Butler hadn’t responded to requests for interview by press time Thursday evening. According to her website, she’s a retired U.S. Army officer, former information technology consultant, and presently an assistant professor in the University of Alaska’s computer science department. She’s served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission's Hope and Sunrise area advisory board and as president of Hope, Inc., the unincorporated town’s nonprofit legal entity. Policy goals mentioned on her site include education investment, reducing health care costs and building the long-planned natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.
For Carpenter, the opening of Chenault’s seat is timely — he’s retiring this year from the Alaska National Guard, where he said his most recent position was a special staff officer in the commanding general’s office for organizational improvement and strategic communication.
“I’ve always had an interest in serving in local politics, but I’ve been serving in the military in one form or fashion for the last 20 years,” Carpenter said. “I’ve always put it on the back burner because it wasn’t compatible. This year I’m retiring out of the Alaska Army National Guard, and it appears the door’s open, and the opportunity is ripe.”
A 1993 graduate of Nikiski High School, Carpenter returned to the area in 2013 after serving deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, and to Turkey and Kuwait with the Air Force. For the past five years, he’s farmed peonies for the ornamental flower market as co-owner of Cook Inlet Gardens, also serving as president of the marketing and professional organization Alaska Peony Market Cooperative.
In 2015, Carpenter was among the Nikiski residents, concerned with increasing property crime, who examined ways to bring more law enforcement to the area. In a January 2015 Nikiski Community Council meeting, Carpenter and other residents advocated creating a law enforcement service area — an arrangement in which Nikiski voters would approve a 1.5 mill property tax increase to fund either a new police agency or services contracted from an existing agency. Carpenter ran for a seat on the service area’s five-member board, but the ballot proposition to the create the service area failed in a 541 to 399 vote.
Crime is again one of Carpenter’s priorities in the House race — particularly repealing the controversial changes of 2016’s Senate Bill 91, which decreased the likelihood of jail sentences for some non-violent crimes and included releasing some people charged with crimes under a “pre-trial” probationary system rather than setting bail.
In their last two sessions legislators have attempted to adjust the changes made in SB 91, most recently passing a bill earlier this month — House Bill 312 — that removes requirements for judges to give pre-trial release to some people charged with certain misdemeanors and felonies. Carpenter said such changes are insufficient, and that “anything less than removing (SB 91) from the books is not listening to the people.”
“If the Legislature wants to deal with the problem, they would have started with the repeal of Senate Bill 91, and then have their ideas implemented,” Carpenter said. “Because there’s no repeal of Senate Bill 91, the rest of it I don’t care for.”
Carpenter said he also favored addressing crime with amendments to the state constitution, whose Article 1 section 12 lists “the principle of reformation” among the foundational concepts of its criminal administration. Carpenter said the constitutional “reformation” concept is a “root cause” of crime problems, and that amending it would change judicial practice more effectively than statutory changes.
Budget issues would also be on his agenda, Carpenter said.
“I think the argument and the discussion have been for the last several years on cutting the budget,” Carpenter said. “I think we need to reframe the argument, reframe the discussion, on how can we innovate what our government does so that it costs less.”
In particular, he said “the areas glaring at us are Education and Health and Human Services.”
Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development is the largest recipient of unrestricted general fund money. The Department of Health and Social Services — which administers Medicaid — is the second largest. The fiscal 2019 budget’s $1.16 billion in unrestricted general fund spending on the Department of Health and Social Services is a $119.9 million increase from fiscal 2018’s $1.04 billion, according to the state government’s online data portal. Unrestricted general fund spending on the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development decreased $5.9 million between the present budget and the last.
“I know nobody wants to talk about it, it’s painful, it’s going to create lots of problems,” Carpenter said of Medicaid and education changes. “But we have to rein in, we have to innovate, we have to do something different to get a different result, which is a leaner, more effective government.”
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.