The two candidates for Senate District O met for the first time for a debate Tuesday and the only thing challenger Eric Treider and incumbent Sen. Peter Micciche R-Soldotna agreed on was that they both had very different visions for the future of Alaska.
Micciche and Treider spoke at a joint luncheon of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex Tuesday. Soldotna Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Kapp moderated the debate and asked each candidate a series of questions from legislative goals, to how they would vote on the ballot initiatives.
Treider, who is running as an independent, will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot while Micciche will be on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. Micciche said he would not campaign until after the primary, when the race will be decided with the general election.
The differences between the two candidates became more evident with each question.
While Treider admitted he did not have the experience working on local boards or commissions, Micciche referenced his past experience in local government from Soldotna mayor, council member and the multiple committees and service projects he has served on.
“It takes a certain skill to be idealistic yet pragmatic,” he said. “I have a vision of utopia but I accept that is never going to happen. The job is to try to get us as close as possible. Those that get hung up on getting exactly what they want causes gridlock. Experience is pertinent to what I’m doing. I love my job.”
Treider said his top legislative priority if elected would be to propose a rule change that would allow lawmakers to abstain from voting on matters with a perceived conflict of interest. Treider has been critical of Micciche’s voting record on oil and gas issues while working as superintendent of the ConocoPhillips Liquefied Natural Gas Production Facility in Nikiski.
Micciche said his priority would be to control spending and continue to turn around the local economy and create more jobs. He said with 92 percent of state revenue coming from oil and gas production developing jobs around the industry would get the state moving in the right direction.
Both were asked how they would vote on Ballot Measure 1, the referendum to repeal Senate Bill 21, the oil and gas production tax. Micciche said to stay competitive with other oil and gas producing states something had to be done and Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) was failing.
“The only remaining state that continues to decline is Alaska,” he said. “The reality is I am the person that made the change of the governor’s base tax from 25 to 35 percent. We should give it a chance and if it ends up not being what we need in the future we can make the necessary tweaks. Nobody wants to go back to ACES, including the Democrats.”
Treider said he is a strong proponent of the Ballot Measure 1.
“I don’t think it makes sense to pump the oil as fast as we can and get less for it,” he said. “The state budget is way out of proportion of where it should be. It is unfair to saddle our children and grandchildren with a monstrous state budget without means to be able to support it. To me, that is the height of irresponsibility.”
Both had different takes on Ballot Measure 2, the proposed legalization of marijuana. Micciche said it is an easy choice to vote no because he cannot justify responsible drug use to his daughters. He said he couldn’t encourage people smoking marijuana wherever they want when he is working on making Alaska a smokefree workplace.
“Those that have challenges with motivation, I don’t believe making marijuana legal is the right answer,” Micciche said. “The social cost is so much higher than the potential tax revenue.”
Treider said he would vote yes because he believes marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol. He said he smoked pot one time in the last 30 years and didn’t enjoy the experience, but doesn’t agree with how it is criminalized.
“The most harmful drug in our culture is alcohol and has destroyed more lives than marijuana ever will,” he said.
Micciche and Treider did agree on Ballot Measure 3, to increase the Alaska Minimum Wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 beginning in January 2015.
Treider said a living wage is vital for people who spend their full time in service to make other people’s lives better.
“A good job is the best social program there is,” he said. “People receiving a living wage does far more to lift their dignity and feeling of self-worth as people.”
Micciche said he is cautious of states like Washington and California that have proposed a minimum wage of $15 per hour because it would make an entry-level job like working at McDonald’s a career for some people, when people should be motivated to go to school.
“I worked at McDonald’s when I was 16 and I was fired for fighting,” he said. “It taught me that’s not what I wanted to do and helped me advance to the next step. I won the fight but lost my job.”
As for the ballot initiative on Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, both candidates agreed that certain steps need to be taken to protect the salmon habitat.
Micciche referenced how he raised concerns on House Bill 77, aimed to accelerate the water and land use permits. The bill, which passed through the house and was scheduled for the Senate floor, died in the Senate Resource Committee.
Treider asked Micciche about earlier comments he made about how could satisfy pro-development interests, as well as fishing and environmental groups with compromises made on HB 77. Micciche said he has been involved with the Kenai Watershed Forum since its inception and worked with Robert Ruffner the executive director on water reservations.
Micciche said he is pro-responsible development but at the same time is unwilling to sacrifice healthy fish and clean air and water.
Treider has been vocal about getting money out of politics and said he wouldn’t accept money from any corporations, only individuals. Micciche said he was glad to hear he doesn’t accept campaign contributions from businesses because that would be illegal. He said company employees can put money into a PAC toward a candidate, which can be traced back to the person.
Micciche asked how Treider could say PACs are not OK when in the past Treider has contributed to Democratic causes.
“When I made the decision to run for office, I decided to set the example of how a campaign should be run,” Treider said.
One question from the audience came from Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. He asked the candidates where they would cut the budget.
“First I would like to cut the House operating budget,” Micciche said, which drew laughs from the audience.
Treider said he would like to see an education endowment created because when times get tough it seems that schools are most likely affected by budget deficits.
Treider said Micciche tries to paint him as a liberal socialist.
“The Senator has only two strings on his banjo, oil and gas,” he said. “I feel we need to plan ahead and invest in renewable energy. There is no reason we couldn’t develop an entire culture around renewable energy.”
Micciche said he is proud of his conservative stance and is dedicated to keep the economy moving forward.
“(Treider) is a nice man but is somewhat naive,” he said. “As a Republican I represent everyone in District O equally. This shouldn’t be a seat held by someone with no experience.”
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.