District 8 voters got a look at their candidates in two different forums held this week.
In the Aug. 22 primary election, six candidates will compete for the seat, which represents the Soldotna-Seward area. Five of the six are Republicans -- Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Grace Merkes, Charlie Parker, Carolyn Reynolds and Larry Smith -- while assembly member Pete Sprague is the lone Democrat. There is no incumbent in this race, since Gary Davis, who has served as representative for District 8 since 1992, has decided not to run again.
The first forum was held on Wednesday at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce weekly luncheon at Paradisos Restaurant. The second was held at the Soldotna Senior Center on Thursday. Larry Smith was not present at these forums because he was chosen as delegate for the Republican National Convention, which was held this week in Philadelphia. Charlie Parker did not attend the chamber of commerce forum but was present at the senior center.
Questions at both forums focused on what the candidates intend to do in office if elected, their priorities, and how they felt about a proposed 10 mill property tax cap; issues related specifically to seniors also were addressed at the second forum. n n n n n
The following are a sample of remarks on the questions from each candidate:
Lancaster: A lifelong Alaskan, he served on the Soldotna City Council prior to being elected mayor. His priority is to build a fiscal plan for the state's future.
"There is no long-range budget plan for Alaska, no mission statement for our state government. We need more accountability in Juneau; we've got to work with each department to plan where money is being spent. We have plenty of money but no accountability."
He worked to obtain funding to establish the senior centers in Kenai and Soldotna and said he would vote no on the tax cap.
Merkes: A longtime supporter of volunteer organizations and community projects, Merkes stressed that she is "reasonable and responsible" and urged voters to look at her record. She said her priority is to diversify the state's economy and improve the education system.
"We need to get other types of industry, more technology and high-skilled jobs. For that we need to educate young people to work at those jobs. We have to have a good economic base; without that you can't have anything else."
She said she would vote yes on the tax cap. She told seniors she has always supported them and will fight to have Medicare pay for their prescriptions.
Parker: With this, his first venture into state politics, Parker said his priority is to balance the budget. He said he already has come up with his own plans for doing that.
"The income from the permanent fund should be split in half. Half of it can continue to pay dividends, and the other half should be used to invest in money-making enterprises. It could also fund projects such as the Susitna Dam."
He said he would vote yes on the tax cap and believes that state and federal programs for seniors are adequate and don't need to be changed.
Reynolds: Also a newcomer to the political arena, Reynolds emphasized that she is for the people and will listen to her constituency on all critical issues. Her priority is to protect the permanent fund and see that it cannot be touched without a vote of the people.
"I want to return government to the people and make sure it lives within its means. Other representatives have been elected to office then turned a deaf ear to the people. I want to change that."
She said she is undecided on the tax cap and will work to protect seniors' Longevity Bonus and give them greater access to state programs.
Smith: Remarks for Larry Smith were given by his father, Red Smith, at the senior center forum. He said his son is a "workhorse for the Republican party."
"We need a future for people in Alaska," Smith said. "We've drifted too far from our constitutional mandates. My son will work to change that."
Sprague: A past member of the Soldotna City Council, the assembly member said his greatest priority is improving Alaska's education system.
"Our schools and universities should be the best in the nation. That is the foundation for everything else we do. It will provide economic stability and take us out of the 'boom and bust' cycle. We need to educate our children here and keep them here."
He said he would vote no on the tax cap and would work toward providing a more stable economy to fund programs for seniors.
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