Diversity of District 9 seen in its candidates

Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2000

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Editor's Note: Today, the Peninsula Clarion continues a series of stories about the Kenai Peninsula's legislative races: House District 9 is featured today and Senate District E will be featured Thursday. House District 7 ran Monday with House District 8 on Tuesday. Each day's coverage includes an overview of the race, profiles of the candidates, Clarion questions posed to the candidates and their written answers, as well as guest columns the candidates were invited to write.

Alaska House District 9 teems with diversity, yet is a microcosm of the state as a whole. To successfully represent the 14,954 residents of Nikiski, Kenai and portions of Kalifornsky Beach Road in Juneau, a legislator must understand that.

The diversity of the district is echoed in its candidates.

Incumbent Rep. Hal Smalley, a Democrat who lives in Kenai, is a retired teacher with a master's degree in education. He also was a commercial fisher and served on the Kenai City Council for 11 years. He was first elected as District 9 representative in 1998, defeating Republican Mark Hodgins.

Republican challenger Linda Reynolds of the Kalifornsky Beach Road area is a restaurant manager and mother of two who moved to Alaska with her parents in 1974. Her main campaign message has been that politicians should follow the will of the people.

The other Republican in the race is Kenai Peninsula Borough school board member Mike Chenault of Nikiski. He was elected to the board less than a year ago. He's lived in the Nikiski-Kenai area for 33 years and manages the family construction business.

The first Republican Moderate to seek office on the peninsula is James Price of Nikiski. He is an electrical and process instrumentation specialist in the oil fields, and has lived in Nikiski for 12 years. The Republican Moderate Party was created two years ago by fiscal conservatives who were unhappy with how the Repub-lican Party was controlled by social conservatives.

With such diversity in the district and in the candidates, the ability to be flexible is vital.

"I think a candidate should be able to work with diverse industry, such as oil and gas, fishing and Native organizations," said Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jack Brown of Nikiski.

"It's a very diverse district with a politically affluent population," he went on to say. "People in District 9 have a passion for politics like no other district. They keep current with state and local issues and are very passionate for who they vote for one way or another."

Brown said before the assembly districts boundaries were redrawn, his district had the same boundaries as the House district.

"It is a really good group to represent," he said.

Kenai Mayor John Williams agrees.

"The representative of this district has to have a very broad understanding of the entire area, the peninsula and the rest of the state," he said.

He also said a representative needs to understand how the state and local economies are tied together.

"If they are involved in any kind of oil and gas legislation, it's not just a Prudhoe Bay issue, but a Cook Inlet issue, too," Williams said.

The economy of District 9 includes the major tax base for the borough, namely the oil and gas industry in Nikiski, as well as serving as the hub for other industry.

"House District 9 probably has the most diverse economy on the peninsula," Williams said. "It contains elements of oil and gas, commercial fishing, government, tourism and transportation. It's a very important part of the state's economy."

Keeping a statewide perspective is a major requirement for a legislator, according to Mike Navarre, who served as the District 9 representative for 12 years and who served one term borough mayor.

"You represent a district, but you're a state representative, and that is sometimes a very unique challenge, because you have to keep the interest of your constituents in mind while you represent the entire state," he said. "I think what a representative needs is a strong work ethic and the ability to listen to strong differences of opinion."

Williams said political astuteness is the key to being a successful District 9 representative.

"I have a saying: Everything in Alaska turns on the political dime," he said. "(A candidate) really needs to understand that."

Brown said a good representative needs to have conservative leanings, whether they're a Democrat or Republican.

"This district is inherently conservative, so to be a successful candidate here, the person is going to have to make sure they understand that while government has a role, they shouldn't see it having as large a roll as people in other parts of the peninsula would," he said.

Navarre disagrees with the assertion that a candidate necessarily be conservative.

"I think labels like liberal and conservative are over-used, and not always definitive of an individual," he said. "I think moderate and reasonable is what it takes.

"I think that in each situation, it requires a broad-based, open-minded person who will work for their constituents."

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