Mike Navarre is an early riser.
Sometimes he sleeps in until 8 a.m. or maybe 9 a.m. but that’s rare, he said.
“As I have gotten older, I have just not slept as much,” he said with a laugh.
Now, as a candidate for the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor’s seat, Navarre has an entirely new list of things either keeping him up at night or waking him up earlier and earlier besides the family business.
“Once I wake up and start thinking about things, I have a hard time sleeping in,” he said. “Same thing at night, especially if I have got a forum or something the next day. I am always thinking about what I want to say and how I want to say it. It has gotten better as the campaign has worn on because as campaigns wear on, you get into a theme where you’ve said it enough times.”
The sun hasn’t yet peaked over the mountains, but Navarre is hunting for another cup of coffee. His first cup and a half were guzzled down talking about the Boys and Girls Club and its coming fundraiser with Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche and others at Louie’s.
“I’ll be back for soup,” he said with a smile as he is handed his morning mocha through his truck window. In the truck’s bed is a stack of his recognizable green campaign yard signs and hanging from the mirror is a sage and citrus air freshener.
He has a love-hate relationship with his work ethic. He said he thrives on staying busy helping run the family’s business affairs, his community involvement, keeping up with his six brothers and three sisters and other extended family and dabbling in state affairs.
But sometimes it can be near overwhelming, he contends.
Navarre isn’t an unfamiliar face to most area residents. He can’t walk across the room at Louie’s without making contact with an acquaintance.
“Hey Mike, how’s the campaign?” a resident inquires.
Some considered Navarre to be the front-runner in a mayoral field that featured a total of six hopefuls — including Soldotna resident Fred Sturman who Navarre will face in the run off election on Oct. 25. Navarre secured just short of 40 percent of the vote on Oct. 4.
He previously served a three-year term as borough mayor starting in 1996, served from 1985 to 1996 in the state legislature and has run the family’s businesses, including several Arby’s and Radio Shack locations, for more than a decade.
But some view him as a career politician and smooth talker in contrast to his competition.
Such a notion, however, is a misguided notion targeted at “trying to find a negative” in his campaign, Navarre said.
“In business and in government, I have made a lot of contacts with people and even the people I sometimes argued with or did not agree with or even were opponents in my career in politics, we get along well,” he said driving to Nikiski as the sun rose. “I get along pretty well with everybody and this career politician thing is more of a attempt at trying to find a negative that is not really there. I have been out of politics for 12 years, so you could say, ‘He is a career businessman’ just as easily as you could say career politician.”
Driving along the Spur Highway, Navarre glanced over.
“This guy here I used to work for once very briefly when I was just out of high school and he was one of the ones that made a lot of money when the oil industry was growing,” he said.
Navarre then stopped at the M&M Market in Nikiski to talk briefly with Felix Martinez, a longtime friend and golfing buddy.
But before he finds Martinez among the store’s frozen foods, he introduces himself to the two women tending to the cash registers.
He said as a naturally shy person, it is at times hard to promote his candidacy to those residents he encounters.
“You have got to force yourself to do it,” he said, noting most people are receptive to his introductions. “Same thing with going door-to-door.”
Although Navarre has found his political voice over the years, such wasn’t the case when he first ran for office.
At 22, he threw in his hat for Kenai City Council, but lost by just a few votes.
After college at 28, Navarre was elected to the state legislature where he had plenty of practice speaking his mind.
“Part of it was to impress my mother,” he said of his political ambitions. “It was a very interesting experience because I am really a fairly shy person. It is hard to get out in front of people and man, public speaking back then was difficult. They give you a two minute opening and you are struggling to find enough to say to cover two minutes.”
His father, George — who was the borough’s second mayor (then called chairman) — was also a driving force behind his public service.
“When I was growing up I had just great respect for my dad and I wanted to be like my dad, right, and he had been in politics for a while,” he said.
His father, who passed away a few years ago, gave him a bit of advice the 55-year-old never forgot.
“When I was going to run for the legislature he said, ‘Well, it is an important job, and it is often a thankless job, but somebody has got to do it and I think that you’d be good at it,’” he said.
On the chance he loses the election to Sturman, Navarre said he will continue running the family business and remain active in the community, but might take the opportunity to cool his heels a bit.
“Before I decided to get into the mayor’s race, I was going to take some time off,” he said. “I have been busy for the last 25 years.”
After stopping to talk oil and gas issues with Micciche at his office in the ConocoPhillips LNG plant, Navarre spoke about what he considers current misunderstandings in the borough.
He feels residents’ frustrations with the federal government are being directed locally. But, he said he would like to help clarify what he feels the borough’s role is and help those who feel they are over taxed understand where their money goes.
When it comes to those emotionally charged issues, he said he wants to do the right thing and justify it, rather than going “with the way the wind is blowing.”
“You can’t just do it because people are upset and demanding it,” he said. “You have to recognize what is the best policy decision because sometimes what is very popular is not the right thing and sometimes what the right thing is isn’t politically popular.”
He said some residents think he is not as “fiscally conservative” as Sturman.
“But rather than call it fiscally conservative or fiscally liberal, I am fiscally responsible,” he said.
“I don’t believe it is about saying you are going to cut taxes and cut government. It is more about you doing a responsible job of managing the borough government and if you are doing a responsible job, I think that the public will accept that.”