Anyone wanting to catch Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer on the Kenai Peninsula this weekend didn't have to go far, but they had to be quick.
Ulmer, who is campaigning for governor, spent the weekend crisscrossing the entire peninsula, hopping from town to town in a whirlwind three-day tour that took her from the docks of Homer to a fire station in Kenai to a Seward coffee house. In between, she took several opportunities to stop and listen to area residents voice their concerns.
Ulmer, a Democrat, arrived on the peninsula Friday, stopping at several spots in Homer. There she visited the Kachemak Bay campus of the Kenai Peninsula College, walked the docks of the Spit with Homer fishers and discussed south peninsula issues with city officials.
After visiting the college, Ulmer said increased funding for education at the post-secondary level is one of her top priorities. She said she has no plans yet to aid the Homer campus specifically, but did say she thinks the existing campus is, "inadequate."
Earlier in the week, Ulmer stressed her concern that the state needs to spend more money on education at all levels.
"I think the Legislature really needs to add money to education, because most schools in Alaska are struggling with a level of funding that fails to keep up with inflation," said Ulmer said, adding that she favors inflation-proofing the fund for education to offset deficits in state revenues.
Ulmer continued her tour of the peninsula by traveling to Soldotna and Kenai Saturday. She started her morning by meeting with educators at the Aspen Hotel to further stress her commitment to education. Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, a teacher himself, attended the meeting and said he was impressed with the lieutenant governor's level of attentiveness to the educators' concerns.
"It was nice. She took a page and a half of notes," Carey said. "That, to me, is a real person."
Ulmer then held an informal "meet and greet" session with the public, attempting to drum-up local support.
Aaron Kotzin, of Soldotna, said he supported Ulmer before the meeting, but left even more firm in his belief that she's the right choice to replace Gov. Tony Knowles.
"It reinforced my confidence in her worthiness," Kotzin said following the event. "She's very down to earth. ... She would make a great governor."
The morning meeting was far from Ulmer's last stop on the central peninsula. She followed her appearances at the Aspen Hotel by dropping in on the Women's Political Caucus luncheon in Soldotna, stopping by the Kenai Fire Station and speaking at the American Legion's statewide convention in Kenai. Ulmer concluded her busy day by meeting with area fishers at the Peninsula Steak House.
Ulmer said Thursday she is interested in hearing the concerns of fishers, who have been critical of recent Alaska Board of Fisheries decisions affecting the Cook Inlet region.
"Fishing is a big part of how we define ourselves as Alaskans. Many communities rely on both sport and commercial fishing as part of their economy," she said.
Ulmer said that although she supports Gov. Knowles' recent appointees to the Board of Fish, she also believes the system is in need of repair.
"I think the Board of Fish system is in need of some changes to make it more responsible to local users, and to allow people from a region to have more of a voice in the decision-making process," Ulmer said. She added that she is in favor of a plan, originally proposed by former governor Jay Hammond, that would replace the current system with a system based on several regional boards of fish that could make regional decisions.
"There are many unique situations from region to region. To have one statewide board be expected to know enough about every region is unrealistic," Ulmer said.
Following her meeting with the fishers, Ulmer left the Kenai-Soldotna area and headed to Cooper Landing, where she met with citizens there in another informal, "meet and greet" before making her way to Seward, where she will spend today meeting citizens and attempting to rouse more support for her campaign.
Her first stop this morning will be at Seward's Resurrect Art Coffee House. The venue seems a logical choice, as Ulmer will need all the caffeine she can to fuel the final leg of her marathon peninsula visit.
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