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Candidates similar on most issues at forum

Posted: September 19, 2013 - 8:06pm  |  Updated: September 24, 2013 - 9:50pm
Merrill Sikorski, right, asks questions of six candidates running for three Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seats during a lunchtime forum at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center Wednesday in Kenai.  Greg Skinner
Greg Skinner
Merrill Sikorski, right, asks questions of six candidates running for three Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seats during a lunchtime forum at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center Wednesday in Kenai.

About the only thing separating the six Kenai Borough Assembly candidates during Wednesday’s forum was their views on the recently passed Anadromous Streams Ordinance — two incumbents stuck by their yes votes while the four others felt it to be an overreaching government intrusion.

During the lunchtime question and answer session, held at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center and jointly sponsored by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce, most of the candidates professed a desire to return the Kenai Peninsula to an idealized past life filled with fishing, hunting and no regulation on what a person can do with their personal property while also hoping for new growth in the oil and gas industry.

Moderated by Merrill Sikorski, candidates were asked to describe the Peninsula as they want to see it in five and 50 years down the road; where they stand on Propositions 1 and 2 on the October ballot; their opinions on the streams ordinance and whether or not they would vote against their constituents if research showed the people to be wrong on an issue.

Running for the District 7 seat to represent the central area is Damon Yerly, Travis Swanson and incumbent Brent Johnson. Running for the District 4 seat to represent Soldotna is Dale Bagley and incumbent Linda Murphy. Looking to represent Nikiski is Wayne Ogle and Steve Chamberlain. Chamberlain did not attend the forum and has said he would avoid most public appearances and media during the campaign.

Swanson, who grew up on the Peninsula but lived in the Portland, Oregon area and the Puget Sound region before returning to the area, said that he would not like to see the Kenai Peninsula become like either place where personal liberties and property rights are trounced upon as he saw Down South. The government should not tell people what to do or how to live, he declared as a basis for his vision of the Peninsula in the future.

Swanson said he viewed the Assembly as service representing the people and as long as their wishes were not immoral or illegal he would vote for what they wanted.

Regarding Proposition 1, which seeks to increase the tax exemption for personal homes from $20,000 to $50,000 and is estimated to cut $1.3 million from the Borough’s general fund, Swanson said he supports anything that puts more money in people’s pockets as a “good step” to rein back government spending.

On the other hand, Swanson supports the Borough bonding out $22 million for school maintenance and a new artificial football field for Homer, though he disagrees with the state paying 70 percent of the tab and said in the long run schools should stop taking state and federal money.

Regarding the streams ordinance, Swanson said the problems with salmon runs on the Peninsula do not rest upon the private property owners. Saying the issue is more complex than property owners, Swanson said that he would have voted against.

Incumbent Brent Johnson said his vote in favor of the ordinance that governs a 50-foot buffer along salmon rearing waters was “necessary” and that he supported it from the beginning.

On the school bonds supported by Proposition 2, Johnson noted that the school district was already tapping into its reserve fund and that he supported the $22 million sought for repairs.

Johnson stepped away from other candidates on Proposition 1 saying yes the larger tax break would help “poor people” but the resulting funding shortfall for service areas such as Central Emergency Service, which faces a $350,000 cut, will lead to a tax shift with the affected service areas seeking an increase in their mill rates and drive the property taxes paid in those areas served up.

Regarding his votes with or against his constituency, Johnson said he would always “do what is right.”

Regarding the future, Johnson said he’d like to see the king salmon run in the Kenai return to its former glory and see more oil exploration and an oil pipeline at Falls Creek.

Damon Yerly echoed Swanson on his version of the future for the Borough saying that he didn’t want to see it go the way of California, Washington or Oregon where people have the water that falls on their roofs and have “no property rights.” He favors personal freedoms.

Regarding his votes, if elected, yearly said he would vote what the people want as long as it’s moral and legal.

On Proposition 2 Yerly said the schools are falling apart and with two children attending public school he favors the bonds as a way to pay for the repairs.

On the tax break offered with Proposition 1, Yerly said he supports it because the money would make a big difference to the people he knows.

“Leave it in the pockets of the people,” Yerly said. “They will spend it.”

On the streams ordinance Yearly summed up his thoughts by saying, “It’s bad legislation” taking property rights from people. Admitting that the king salmon run is indeed a problem, he said that the science behind the decision to govern the 50-foot buffer zones on private and public property was not local science.

Incumbent District 4 Assemblymember Linda Murphy said she continues to support the salmon ordinance and again discounted those that say law restricts lawn mowing and tree trimming.

Taking issue with Swanson’s characterization of the state paying 70 percent of school construction, Murphy said that state funding is not a “handout” but rather a constitutionally mandated support of education.

“It’s what we are due,” Murphy said.

Like most, Murphy supports Proposition 1 saying that the $1.3 million hit to the general fund can be “absorbed.” She went on to note that 43 percent of property tax bills were sent to out of state residents that would not be eligible for the break because the property is not their permanent residence.

On voting with or against her constituency, she said would vote for what is right. On the future of the Peninsula, Murphy too wants to see oil and gas exploration along with the return of the king salmon runs and the Peninsula to stay looking like it does today for the next 50 years.

Dale Bagley’s thoughts on the future of the Borough rest with it keeping its second-class status and not growing into the problems of big government, which come with first class status. He too would like to see oil and gas return to the days of yore saying that $1.2 billion have been spent on exploration makes him hopeful of finds.

Bagley said he would likely vote along with his constituents on issues before the assembly, but hope to take advantage of advisory votes too.

Proposition 1 provides a “big benefit” to property owners, said Bagley. He’s also O.K. with the shifting burden of payment to those in the service areas.

Bagley supports Proposition 2 and its proposed bonding of $22 million for school repairs and construction and feels that state paying for 70 percent of the tab is “great.”

On the salmon ordinance Bagley lines up with those against its passage saying that property owners are not part of the problem.

“I don’t believe that it’s something that should have been done,” he said.

Wayne Ogle said he spent the better part of a year fighting the salmon ordinance, which he totally opposed.

“I believe in stewardship,” Ogle said.

On his general support for the bonding of $22 million for school repairs in Proposition 2, Ogle said his issue the 70 percent of the total cost expected to be paid for by the state, which Murphy pointed out was part of a state constitutionally mandated support of education, rests with the fact that the state is not “mandated to have money.”

Proposition 1 will get Ogle’s vote because, he said, it is “always better to have more money stay in people’s pockets.” The impact on the budgets of service areas is “very minimal,” he added.

Ogle said he would listen to the “people” when it comes to his votes. Should he not agree with what his constituency calls for, Ogle said there was always the opportunity to “resign” rather than go against the people.



Reach Greg Skinner at

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JohnPeterZenger 09/20/13 - 09:37 am
Uninformed candidates.

It's one thing to observe the regrettable misfortune caused by uninformed voters, but it doesn't hold a candle to the misfortune visited upon the public by uninformed elected officials.

People seeking to hold elected public office should, at the very least, have some basic grasp of how their government is designed to operate.

Single issue candidates with little to offer other than ideological demagoguery can cause problems that last far longer than their attention spans.

These rookie candidates need to be vetted, they need to spend some time gaining experience and learning a few basic realities.

Yes, anyone can run for office, ...that doesn't mean most will be able or qualified to do an adequate responsible job of it.

On the other hand, you have career politicians such as Bagley who has shown himself to be unable and unqualified to preside over public policy no matter how many years he spends at it.

Yerly, Swanson and Ogle sound like they wish to live in an idealized and illusory dreamworld.

Unfortunately, we don't live in that kind of world, there are actual real world realities which intrude on such simplistic and narrow minded illusions.

Public office is no place for these people to learn of larger realities.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/20/13 - 12:47 pm
What we need locally is a

What we need locally is a community organizer class or program so those seeking to gain our FAITH and support of their desire as public servants to be elected. Then they can have on the job training which will bolster their Dreams of leadership like other leaders have done before them.
I guess. Where does one learn how to serve if not by serving if we are not born omniscient? Pick one or leave the seats empty is our only options as far as I can see. History & presence shows on the job training for some does not work and they never learn, yet they keep getting elected. So what's the answer here as I don't know it and question who does? When dealing with humankind and seeking good leadership the world has failed repeatedly to the destruction of many for at least 6000 years of human governance and a desire to control & lead others has never produced that utopia mankind desires. I guess what we have to do here is study the candidates and pick your choice and hope for the best when you go vote on October 1st. Or just do what a large number of folks do and not vote.

Damon Yerly
Damon Yerly 09/20/13 - 09:15 pm
Would like to hear your input

JohnPeterZenger , I'm not sure if you were at the forum, or if you are going by the little information provided by this article, but I apologize for not getting my ideas across in a satisfactory way. Public speaking is something I am working on. One thing that I would like to point out is that the mention of the rain on your roof, doesn't convey what I was saying. My reason for attempting to join the assembly is simple. I want a better life for my sons. I lived here when I was young then moved to Washington. While there I realized that the property rights of the people were being eroded surprisingly fast. One of my jobs was building water catchment systems for off grid houses, and I learned that they were not legal in Oregon and moving that way in Washington. The water that falls on your own roof is not yours to use. It belongs to the state. That is just an example of the extreme stripping of property rights that I am opposed to. I realize that we are still a long way from that extreme, but I am seeing Alaska move that way and I hope to slow us down by starting the fight early. I am getting into a race that includes two candidates that are opposed on most issues, with what I see as extreme on both sides depending on the issue. I fall somewhere in the middle, and as with all politics, its the edges that get noticed and drive the discussions.

Your comment about some of us wanting to live in a idealized and illusory dream world, which does not exist, does sound like the opinions of some. But the idea I have been trying to get across is that I love the world we live in now, the world that makes us Alaskan. I want the same life for my sons, and that is why I live here. I could live in Anchorage and make a lot more money, I could go back down south and escape the harsh winters, but Alaska is what I love and I don't want to lose it to over legislation.

So what is it that keeps you in Alaska? Why do you put up with these harsh winters, and higher cost of living?

I would bet our ideas of what the Kenai Peninsula should look like don't differ much.

JohnPeterZenger 09/20/13 - 10:53 pm
Water catchment systems are illegal in Oregon?


Water belongs to the public in Oregon.

You can't build catchment systems? Better tell the building code inspectors.

Can you get on the wrong side of the law?

Sure, if you're a hoarder. But beyond criminal excess, catching rainwater is entirely legal in Oregon.

If you're going to bring this level of deception to Alaska, and start whining about erosion of property rights by being less than truthful about reality, it's doubtful you'll be a positive addition to any discussion of public policy.

Water belongs to the state in Washington?

Yes, according to law written in 1917. But that doesn't mean you can't collect the rain that falls on your roof.

Here's a quote from an article about Washington State law.

"Washington Department of Ecology has just re-written its policy to make it more clear: You do not need a permit to collect rainwater off your rooftops and builders no longer need difficult-to-get permits to include rain-harvesting systems in their building plans."

There, it's safe for you to go back now. Your fears are baseless.

We've got enough to deal with without adding imaginary fears and without a 'property rights' crisis based on fictional exaggeration and invention.

I prefer reality based public policy.

And no, I'm quite sure my vision of the Kenai isn't anything at all like yours. I prefer objective reality, not some illusory mythical idealization based on misconceived contrivances.

That kind of thing is all yours.

Damon Yerly
Damon Yerly 09/21/13 - 12:54 am
Thanks for the links, they

Thanks for the links, they show that based on a 1925 law the water is public property and you are not allowed to retain the water. Now it seems that in 2009 these laws have changed, but I have lived in back in Alaska since 1999, and the business sold in 2001. So when I was there, what I said was true. Also, being that I stated my job was building water catchment systems in Washington, I'm quite aware that they are legal. My statement was that rules were moving in that direction. Your link title makes it clear that it was a hassle getting the permits needed, which was a move in the direction of over regulation compared to when I started. So it seems to me that in both cases someone realized the over reaches written into previous rules and did something to fix it.

Beyond that, I can see that trying to clarify my reasoning is not going to change your opinion. There is very noticeable difference in the freedoms Alaskans enjoy, and I myself wish to continue to enjoy them. As I stated, we are a long way from extreme, and my hope is to keep it that way.

JohnPeterZenger 09/21/13 - 09:06 am
Clarify your reasoning?

The links don't confirm your exaggerated misstatements.

The links show you overstated your case, the deception was so transparent as to be summarily rejected as simple overreaction on your part.

Instead, your example shows not government overreach, not a trend toward government overreach, but just the opposite.

The links prove instead, Washington and Oregon governments have both been moving toward accommodation for personal property rights, moving away from antiquated laws written at the turn of the century.

Just the opposite of your exaggerated claims of creeping government overreach. Just the opposite of some trend you claim you have to fight back against.

Trying to walk back your statements now is too little too late.

As I said, reality based public policy is much preferred to unfounded, reactionary, and exaggerated, ideological paranoia.

As to that 'talking point' phrasing of yours, 'very noticeable difference in freedom' Alaskan's enjoy, it appears you're still willing to purport another unfounded generality in an attempt to bolster or prop up yet another ideological exaggeration.

This vague appeal of yours to some unnamed, unspecified 'freedom' that needs you installed into elected office acting to save it, ....that sounds exactly like weak tea.

The 'taxed enough already' bunch arose from a Koch brothers funded corporate scheme designed to benefit the corporate world. The dupes taken in by the scheme didn't even realize they formed, and adopted the 'taxed enough already' slogan at the same time as their taxes were actually being cut.

That demonstrates how naive and easily hoodwinked they were. All the talking points are just as transparently false. The fears are just as transparently manufactured from illusory misconstructions.

Ah, the power of misinformation. Throw it out there and hope you can make it stick. Appeal to vague fears.

Those aren't qualities I want in a public official. There is no reason to invite that kind of thing into the process of public policy.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/21/13 - 10:56 am
Don't do it Damon, it's a

Don't do it Damon, it's a trap and you will never come up with the correct answers. It does make for good reading though.
I would vote for you if you where in my voting district #39 ballot, but due to where we live SPW and I have only write ins on our ballot.
Good Luck though.

JohnPeterZenger 09/22/13 - 10:04 am
He hasn't offered any 'correct' answers,

...his statements were shown to be incorrect.

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