Two local Republican candidates jousting for the Alaska State Senate squared off Wednesday at a debate hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce.
Incumbent state Sen. Tom Wagoner and Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche outlined their visions for the state, talked about local and state challenges and addressed topics like oil and gas, fishing, taxes and the state’s budget.
Wagoner has served in the senate since 2003, is the former mayor of Kenai and a retired small businessman and commercial fisherman. Micciche is the current mayor of Soldotna and superintendent of ConocoPhillips’ Kenai LNG facility.
Both are running for Senate District O, which covers House Districts 29 and 30, further defined as Kenai and Soldotna south to Homer. The primary election is on Aug. 28. No Democrats have registered to challenge the winner after the primary.
Micciche told the audience he represented new ideas and a fresh perspective while Wagoner said he represented experience and tenure.
When asked to share their top three priorities, both agreed on controlling the state budget and building a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to tidewater. However, Micciche said his third priority was managing local sport and commercial fisheries and Wagoner said his was resolving lingering state oil and gas tax issues.
“We are at a critical point and we can’t stand the increased spending that’s been going on for the last 10 years,” Wagoner said.
Micciche said he is running because he was approached by local Republicans who “asked about some help.” Legislators haven’t been making decisions needed to move forward, he said.
“I’m a conservative guy, my record proves that,” he said. “Tom talked about the state budget issues, but for the last ten years, he’s been there and has been unable to whittle away the incredible spending that has doubled that budget in the last seven.”
Both candidates were asked about the current revival of oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet and how they would continue to support it.
Wagoner said many companies are looking for oil, not just gas, and the tax structure helps spur all exploration.
“I think what’s going on in Cook Inlet pretty well speaks for itself of what I am capable of doing with legislation to support the oil and gas industry, which by the way, has created a tremendous amount of jobs in the Cook Inlet basin,” Wagoner said. “They are still hiring people and they are hiring local.”
Micciche said the market — “$6 summer gas and up to $14 winter gas” — has more to do with the exploration than state incentive programs.
“No one is taking advantage of these incentives that are saving the world and I applaud them, I’m glad they are there,” he said. “There may be a use for them for a company looking in a certain place, but it is always market-based.”
Both candidates were asked about how they would make sure Nikiski remains a viable option to be the terminus for a North Slope gas pipeline rather than Valdez.
Wagoner said he helped appropriate money to do a study looking at Nikiski’s assets and detailing information companies would need to make that decision.
“We are going to be directly competitive with the city of Valdez — that is just the way it is going to be and I think we are in a good position to incentivize the construction of the 48 inch line and have it come to Cook Inlet,” he said.
Micciche said he wasn’t concerned with where the pipeline goes — rather that it is just built, that the legislature get away from being narrow-minded, “squabbling about things that don’t matter” and work together.
“The reality of it is, who cares?” he said. “Let’s figure out how to get the gas to market after 40 years, put it to a grid area where someone want to invest in that extra infrastructure to get it to their town, that’s fine. But, make it available for all Alaskans along the way.”
Both were also asked about management of local fisheries, specifically related to this year’s low king salmon run.
Both Wagoner and Micciche agreed the king fishery needs to be enhanced.
“We have to address the shortage of king salmon and the best way to get started with that is through king salmon enhancement and then take a look at the board structure and see what we can do about that,” Wagoner said, adding the Board of Fisheries needs to be a “professional board instead of a lay board.”
Micciche local fish managers need to understand how many kings are coming into the Kenai River and that the area needs local managers to make decisions based on biology.
“For anyone who has attended and watched our honorable local biologists look down with their heads shaking because their politically-appointed people above them are pulling the strings, (knows) it is the wrong way to run fisheries,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.