The four candidates running for House District 9 faced off in a forum at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday afternoon.
The incumbent, Rep. Hal Smalley, D-Kenai, was joined by three challengers: Republican Moderate James Price of Nikiski and Republicans Mike Chenault of Nikiski and Linda Kay Reynolds of the Kalifornsky Beach Road area.
District 9 encompasses Nikiski, Kenai and much of K-Beach Road.
Before the questions began, each candidate had an opportunity to introduce themselves. Here is a summary of their remarks in the order they spoke.
Smalley: No stranger to the chamber lunch crowd, Smalley said he has been on the Kenai Peninsula since 1974 and was elected to the Legislature almost two years ago.
"I've enjoyed being there, representing you," he said. "We've accomplished many things, including making government more accessible to the people, but we have more work to do."
Chenault: Chenault, a 33-year resident of the peninsula and a current member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board, said he is running for the House because of what he can do for the residents here.
"I think I can represent the people in the area and hope that my views are the same as others," he said. "I hope I can go to Juneau and get some things accomplished."
Price: Price, who has lived in Nikiski for 12 years, said he is proud to be the first Republican Moderate candidate to run on the Kenai Peninsula.
"I'm running because I think there is a need for a change, and the Republican Moderate Party can provide that change from business as usual," he said.
Reynolds: Reynolds said she moved to Alaska in 1974 to homestead with her family.
"We didn't come here looking for the easy way," she said. "I've seen this state reduced to a political dictatorship."
She said the Sept. 14 "no" vote (on using a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund's earnings to help pay for state government) was a message not to touch the Alaska Permanent Fund, and legislators should follow the will of the people.
Merrill Sikorski moderated the forum and delivered the sometimes unconventional questions. His first was:
What was the candidate's birth order among their siblings, and what was their most embarrassing moment?
Sikorski explained the unusual question by noting psychiatrists say a person will react to stress -- such as that they will find in the Legislature -- in different ways, depending on where they were in birth order. He said the questions were designed to allow the audience to get to know more about the candidates.
Reynolds: She said she was the sixth child out of 10. She said her most embarrassing moment came as a child while directing the other children in cleaning the farm.
"I was acting like a dictator, telling them how to clean, and was feeling pretty good until I fell face-first into the pile of stuff they were cleaning," she said. "It was a pretty (humbling) experience."
Price: He said he was the oldest of five children.
"I don't embarrass easily, so I don't know what else to say," he said.
Chenault: He said he was the middle child of five, and his most embarrassing moment came in sixth grade.
"We were acting like little hellions in class, but didn't know the teacher was watching us through the window," he said. "We had to eat some humble pie."
Smalley: Smalley said he was the third of three children. His most embarrassing moment came when he was a sophomore who was invited to the junior-senior prom.
"The prom queen was standing beside me wearing a chiffon dress," he said. "When she turned and walked away, my foot was on the chiffon and she wound up in her slip. It should have been more embarrassing for her, but I turned as red as that chiffon."
Who is the most important and most influential person in your life?
Smalley: He said the most important person in his life was his wife of 32 years, Susan.
"She has guided me and made me the person that I am," Smalley said.
He said the most influential persons in his life were his grandparents, who supported his decisions.
Chenault: Chenault also said his wife was the most important person in his life.
"She is the backbone of our family," he said. "When I'm not there, she steers the ship pretty well."
Chenault said his father was the most influential figure in his life, as he taught him a strong work ethic.
Price: Price said he thought his mother was the most important and influential person in his life.
"My mother always taught me to be fair and stand up and that if I do that, everything will work out right," he said.
Reynolds: Reynolds said the most influential persons in her life were her parents.
"My most important person in my life is my higher power," she said.
Sikorski asked the candidates about their educational background.
Reynolds: Reynolds said she learned accounting and bookkeeping from a cousin who was a certified public accountant, but didn't go to college.
Price: Price said he received his GED here in 1996 and has gotten certification in a number of areas related to his occupation as an oil field worker, including 39 credit hours from Kenai Peninsula College.
Chenault: Chenault said he graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1975 and has no college experience.
Smalley: Smalley said he graduated from high school in 1965 in Astoria, Ore., and received his bachelor of science degree from the Oregon College of Education, and then his master's degree.
How do you feel about the proposed 10 mill tax cap?
Smalley: Smalley said he will vote "no" on the initiative, which will be on the November ballot.
"The question is the ability for communities to establish their own taxes," he said.
Chenault: Chenault agreed with Smalley.
"I will vote no. The reason is the same," he said, adding he would like to see it come up as a local issue, rather than a statewide one.
Price: Price said he hasn't decided yet, but is leaning toward voting for it.
"I think the people can spend their money better than the state," he said.
Reynolds: Reynolds said she has yet to decide for sure.
"I'm still gathering information and still gathering a consensus," she said. "For myself, I feel local governments can spend the money better."
Sikorski asked the candidates what they would do to alleviate the resource-extracting, boom-and-bust situation the state is in.
Chenault: Chenault said the key is education and turning to a technology-based economy as the Internet grows.
Price: Price said creating value-added products out of the state's natural resources is what is needed. He said the state needs to use and promote the existing resources better.
Reynolds: Reynolds also said adding value to the state's natural resources is important. She cited Canada, which has done well with turning timber into oriented strand board (OSB), a construction material much like plywood, and suggested something like that can be done with the dead or dying spruce bark beetle trees on the peninsula.
Smalley: Smalley said the state needs to export and improve the resources here now as one thing that can be done, but said education was just as important.
The candidates were asked what can be done to stop the brain drain of Alaska's youth, who do not have the same employment opportunities in this state as in others.
Price: Price said the state needs to invest in economic development to spur the growth of jobs for Alaska's young people.
"I'd like to see the permanent fund invested in Alaska and not in the United States in general," he said. "We need to use what we have here as best we can."
Reynolds: Reynolds said the state needs strong growth in the private sector.
"We need to make it conducive for them," she said.
She suggested tax breaks and breaks on land prices that would encourage people to open up businesses.
Chenault: Chenault agreed that the state needs to make it more favorable for businesses to come here.
"But we should not give them any advantage over local businesses," he said. "We need to give them the opportunity to thrive."
Smalley: Smalley said the state needs to partner with the private sector and perhaps offer incentives for young Alaskans who complete college to come back home.
"Though I agree with Mike (Chenault) that we don't need to give away the farm," he said. "The state needs a long-range fiscal plan, and then businesses will know they will not be looked to as the solution to the budget."
If a bill is up for a vote, how will you find out what it's about?
Smalley: Smalley said the benefit of an experienced staff cannot be overstated.
"I would check with my staff, with my colleagues and with the bill's sponsor and hopefully have contact with my constituents," he said. "Sometimes I will have to make decisions without input from the 13,000, 14,000, 15,000 people on the peninsula, but I will try to make the best decision."
Chenault: Chenault also said a good staff was important.
"I would do my research and rely on my staff just like in any business," he said. "I hope by the time it comes to the (floor) I will be familiar with it."
Price: Price said he would thoroughly read any bills that come before the Legislature.
"If I cannot gather sufficient information in time, I will vote 'no' on any bill I don't know enough about," he said.
Reynolds: Reynolds said she will take the time to do the needed research and that finding out what her constituents think on the subject would be her highest priority.
The next chance for voters to see the candidates for House District 9 discuss the issues will be at a candidate forum hosted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce at the Riverside House in Soldotna at noon on Tuesday.
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