Two candidates competing for the state senate this year are fielding two different strategies to win over voters — one says he has tenure and experience, the other claims a fresh perspective and ambition.
Incumbent state Sen. Tom Wagoner and Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, both Republicans, are vying 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 Tuesday. No Democrats have registered to challenge the winner after the primary.
Wagoner contends locals know him as an experienced legislator who has worked hard on both state and local issues.
“Most of these people know me, they know me very well,” he said. “Been here for 43 years, been their senator for 10 years, been their friend for 43 years, most of them.”
Wagoner, 69, is a former educator, businessman, and a commercial fisherman who still holds commercial halibut fishing quota. He was formerly a member of the Kenai City Council and mayor of Kenai.
“I don’t know what he is going to bring that I don’t already furnish,” he said, when asked about Micciche’s charge that he would bring a fresh perspective to the office. “He hasn’t come out and said what he would do that I haven’t done.”
Wagoner said his style when working in Juneau is to rely on the friendships he’s made to achieve compromises that benefit the area. It’s a give and a take, he said. But there are times when someone has to drag heels and he’s not afraid to do so.
“It isn’t what you pass in legislation, sometimes it is what you don’t pass that really counts,” he said.
He said his opponent’s claims that he will bring a fresh perspective to the Senate is just talk.
“That’s so much lip service,” Wagoner said. “He doesn’t understand. You don’t always accomplish what you want to accomplish when you go down into the Legislature. I can set seven goals ... and when I tell you that, I know that I’m not going to get all of that done. OK? The thing to do is to pick out one or two items — oil taxes, a reduction in the budget if at all possible, increased oil production and hopefully a gas pipeline.”
Wagoner said a lot of being in the Legislature is “positioning” and as a freshman legislator, “you don’t get much, especially if you are not in the majority,” and you can’t “set the world on fire.”
“Listen, I’ve got 10 years seniority,” he said. “If we have a Republican organization I will be in what’s called leadership. I could be the senate president. I could be the rules chairman. One of those is what I will go for — the two most powerful positions in the state senate. Why would you elect somebody with no experience who doesn’t have a chance in the world of being in leadership let alone have the chance to be in one of those two positions?”
On the issues, Wagoner said his top priorities are similar to Micciche’s — state budget reduction, oil taxes, natural gas pipeline and fisheries. But, Wagoner said education is important to him as well.
“The most important thing we do is educate our children, start to finish,” he said. “Probably the second most important is the university system. But every one of those children is a resource also.”
Wagoner is quick to mention his work on a package of Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration credits he said has made it possible for platforms to keep from shutting down and small companies to start up in the area.
“Peter thinks that isn’t any big deal,” he said. “These guys would not be in Cook Inlet right now. You would not have two jack up rigs, you would not have Hilcorp and I doubt you would have Apache if the tax structure in Cook Inlet were not what it is.”
Micciche said he is a quick study and a natural leader. He said he also has the ability to bring together both sides of an issue — something evidenced by his role in Soldotna, he said.
He contends he can be an effective first year legislator.
“Three terms has not made Tom Wagoner effective,” he said. “Some people hit the ground running and are effective leaders immediately and some people will never be a leader.”
Micciche, 50, is the superintendent of ConocoPhillips’ Kenai LNG facility, a position he has held since 2008. He started working for the company in 1985 as a roustabout. Micciche started coming to the area during the summers in the late 1970s and worked in the canneries before he finished his degree from Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage in organizational management.
If elected, Micciche said he would take a “leave of absence” from his post at the LNG facility while the Legislature is in session. That means he won’t be receiving a paycheck from ConocoPhillips during that time, which he said would be a financial detriment to his family.
“I believe it is most important for the state for the next generation and we both always put the community first before our own finances,” he said.
Micciche said he does not see a conflict between his employment and his aspiration to be a senator.
“Everyone does something else — no one lives on being a legislator,” he said. “The most important thing I am telling people is that I am putting my hand on the Bible for the people of Alaska just like I made a vow for the people of Soldotna. Everything else is just a job. It is unfortunate if people think in that manner that community servants should be neutralized from serving because of the other things they do for a living.”
Micciche said he is a “pretty accomplished individual in the areas that (voters) see important,” like oil, natural resources, budgeting and organization. He said he can help solve the gas pipeline riddle the state has been facing because he has an area of expertise no else has in the senate has. He said he would like to set that legislative body’s bar for performance higher.
“I’ve been here most of my life and people here know me,” he said. “I want them to remember that I am a tireless advocate for the community.”
He said incumbents will try to convince voters that “time in the chair” has made them more effective.
“Really the proof is in the pudding about leadership and effectiveness,” he said.
When asked about the charge that a seat in the state senate would be only a stepping stone to a further political career — a run at the Governor’s office or the federal level — Micciche said he doesn’t have any plans beyond this election.
“Am I going to say that I will never be interested in doing something else? That would be a foolish statement for anyone to make — you don’t know what the future brings,” he said.
However, he has thought for the last several years as Soldotna’s mayor about serving on the state level. He said that’s where he can be most effective.
“It wasn’t until I watched the complete lack of any forward motion in the last three sessions that I became interested,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.