Assembly race takes shape

Former borough mayor and slew of newcomers among candidates

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidate Damon Yerly is not running against the Anadromous Streams Ordinance, per se, and he is not running against term limits at all.


The District 7 candidate is not a “keyboard warrior” that simply likes to spout off online about politics either. The Kasilof resident said he is running because he believes that he is the kind of guy that can help legislate personal responsibility and keep the “Alaskan lifestyle” he lives, with pigs and chickens and lamas and a shed built without permits, while also promoting the kind of growth that local small business needs and the roads that the borough needs for more people to live on five acres just as he does.

“You can grow and prosper without loosing the Alaska lifestyle,” Yerly said. “I want a say in how we grow.”

Tuesday, he and six other candidates running for three seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will find out how they hold up to the voters that turn out for an off year election.

As to why voters should choose him over his two opponents, Yearly said he’s more in the middle that Travis Swanson, who sides in a more “tea party” way, and District 7 incumbent Brent Johnson, who Yerly said was almost a “nanny state” candidate.

Regarding his ability to govern a budget spending the 72 million taxpayer dollars at the mayor’s request, Yerly, a commercial driver, said his qualifications come from an accounting degree and past business administration experience along with a view that the budget is not just a 375-page document spending $72 million dollars, but a series of individual items that must be reviewed and thought about.

Like Swanson, Yerly is sure, that, with work, the annual general fund budget could be reduced.

Swanson said he got into the race because he is not happy with the current borough assembly. Specifically, he is not happy with the assembly’s “greased lightning” approach to passing the 2014 budget.

“It’s the people’s money,” Swanson said. “Not the government’s.”

Along with seeking a more conservative approach to annual budgets, Swanson dislikes the assembly’s “overreach” on the Anadromous Streams Ordinance. It’s not bad science, there are just more issues than the landowners, he said.

As with most candidates, Swanson believes that Proposition 1 should and will pass. The money culled from property tax revenues, about $1.3 million, is best in the “people’s” pocket, he said.

“Taking more away from government created healthy conversation,” Swanson said. “As a representative of the people that’s what I will bring.”

District 4 incumbent Linda Murphy has no agenda for her second term representing Soldotna, if she wins, but with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” coming, she does want to stay on board to help see the borough-owned hospital through the coming health reforms.

“I’ve always been supportive of the hospital and always will be,” Murphy said of Central Peninsula Hospital, which she believes has become “state of the art” over the years.

Murphy said she would work along the same lines as Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre in trying and find ways to use the hospital’s assets and talents to reduce continually growing medical costs for not only borough employees, but for people in the community too.

Looking back over her first term, Murphy said that nothing in borough government is broken at this point, but as the Anadromous Stream Ordinance comes online there may have to be changes and amendments work out. One thing Murphy remains committed to with the stream protecting law is to keep its basic protections on the books.

Regardless of what happens with the term limits vote on Election Day, Murphy said, if she wins, it would be her last term.

To the voters, Murphy said she’s a better choice than Bagley because she brings a more balanced approach to borough government. Bagley is not quite the small government advocate he claims to be, she said. Bagley’s record from a previous term as borough mayor is one of increasing government size by growing the number of employees and increasing the size of the general fund. Bagley did that, Murphy said, by using deficit spending that reduced the borough savings for five of his budget years.

“I think I did a good job representing my district and the borough,” Murphy said. “I want to continue serving.”

Dale Bagley is running against Murphy for the seat to represent Soldotna. He won’t speak against his opponent directly, but said his candidacy is based on his belief that he can make a difference by making the assembly more conservative. By that, Bagley means financially more conservative and working to reduce overall rules and regulations imposed on the community. His fear is that the peninsula is going to become a first class borough and bring with that all the problems of big government seen in places like Fairbanks, Mat-Su and Juneau. The borough needs less power not more, he said.

Bagley thinks people should vote for him because of his long family ties and past experiences on Soldotna City Council, as borough mayor and his service on many area boards.

One area Bagley said he would work to fix, if elected, is the term limits issue that is before voters in this election with Propositions 3A and 3B. Assuming the voters will again support the limits, Bagley said he would work to let the will of the people stand rather than continually revisit the issue.

Swanson agrees on the term limits issue. There are people on the assembly that don’t want to relinquish power.

“I believe in term limits,” Swanson said. “This will be the forth time that the people have spoken (in support).”

Like all the challenging candidates, Bagley questions the validity of the law governing shorelines, public and private, along all the salmon bearing waters in the borough. His approach to it, if elected, would be to put the ordinance to an advisory vote of the people before taking action himself.

“We are starting to go down a zoning path,” Bagley said. “(There is) nothing worse than an assembly getting ahead of voters on an issue.”

“I voted against it in 1996 when it applied only to the Kenai River,” Bagley said of the recently passed Anadromous Streams Ordinance.

Johnson said he’s running again for largely the same reasons he ran for his first term.

“I believe I have skills for local government,” Johnson said.

The commercial fisherman also wants to see the Anadromous Streams Ordinance through its coming implementation. It’s something he believes strongly in, but did say that if during the next years work is needed; he would seek to tweak it.

While, Johnson had no real agenda during his first run, he’s developed one for his second — schools.

“I’ve discovered that we have real good schools,” Johnson said.

If Johnson wins a second term he’s hoping to keep the school’s budget maintained at the level needed while also keeping the borough’s taxes among the lowest in the state.

“Low taxes and a fabulous school system,” Johnson said.

Swanson is also running over the school district budget, which he would work to cut state money from.

While there are roads to be fixed, among them Aspen Road in Ninilchik, Johnson said the borough is basically in good shape; especially the code, which is what the assembly is charged with overseeing.

“I’ve gone home and kicked myself on a few small issues,” Johnson said, when asked if he’d do anything from his first term differently. “On the big ones, I’ve done what I wanted to do, which is have the courage to vote and do what I think is right.”

Johnson offered a few reasons why voters should choose him over his opponents. His first note was that his phone number is in the book and anyone can call him anytime. Second, saying that at least one of his opponents is on “a frenzy” to create blanket cuts of taxes and government services. Johnson said the difference is that he thinks each issue through. Cuts that are needed should be sensible and not affect services “poorly.”

District 3 candidate Wayne Ogle’s mantra has been that Washington D.C. is broken. The Nikiski resident believes that the fix, for him, and the reason he is running, begins in the Kenai Borough by growing a strong local involvement. The borough is going the wrong direction and overreaching with things like the Anadromous Streams Ordinance. A more conservative approach is needed.

To foster that, Ogle said if elected he would ask himself of each ordinance put before him is it legitimate, is it what the borough should be doing. Again referring to the streams ordinance, Ogle said the borough grabbed power for itself but solved no fish issues.

The self-described problem solving fiscal conservative said once elected he will “hear” the people in his district by attending all service area board meetings and using his assembly seat to help his community pursue what it wants.

Saying that he’s not a one-issue candidate, like his opponent, Ogle said he was interested in the budget process, which should not be measured in how quickly and painlessly the assembly can get through the process, as was the case this year. Members should be more involved through work sessions and look more deeply at the budget in a big picture way and not spend money without a demonstrated need, he said. Ogle said his experience, as a municipal public works director building budget requests, will help him in that endeavor.

“Right now they’re pretty detached,” he said.

To help with his version of a fiscally responsible budget process, Ogle would like to see the newly instituted requirement that fiscal impact notes be attached to all ordinances be expanded to all resolutions as well, such as with all grants. That way all the strings attached with grant money will be more clearly defined, he said.

While keeping the government out of everyone’s business, Ogle would work to foster an economic development friendly climate. Otherwise Kenai Peninsula kids and the grandchildren of people here will go looking for work in the Lower 48, he said.

District 3 candidate Steve Chamberlain said he’s not a one issue candidate. Yes, his primary reason to run for borough assembly is so that no one runs for office unopposed, but also on his agenda, if elected, is his desire to protect the drinking water in Nikiski.

Among other issues that Chamberlain has on his mind is regional public transportation, the repeal of the Anadromous Streams Ordinance and ethical problems in the borough government.

“The planning department has ethical issues,” Chamberlain said. “Scary radical decisions come out of the borough government.”

Asked why voters should cast his way Chamberlain said, “Because I am a person that will never give up. I won’t stop. I want wide-scale testing (of drinking water wells).”

Chamberlain said he would go to every assembly meeting for three years and ask for testing until the $150,000 of state money for it is spent. It’s cheap and easy, he said.

Promising to only seek on term to drive home the investigation and total defining of the contamination of Nikiski, Chamberlain said he deserves a chance to represent his district.

“A one time shot,” he said.