Candidates vying for the Alaska House seat representing Kenai and Nikiski faced questions from down the road a piece as they participated in a forum presented by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.
The luncheon, held at the Riverside House in Soldotna, featured Democratic incumbent Rep. Hal Smalley, Republican Moderate candidate James Price and two Republican challengers, Mike Chenault and Linda Kay Reynolds.
The forum consisted of opening statements by the candidates followed by questions from the audience. The following is a summary of the candidate's statements and responses in the order they were given.
n James Price: Price pointed out that the Republican Moderate Party was a new third party in the state and was in no way associated with the Republican Party of Alaska.
"We're founded by and for fiscal conservatives who are fed up with business-as-usual politics that's been carried out by representatives of both parties," he said.
He is the first Republican Moderate to run on the Kenai Peninsula, and one of six running statewide.
"Our main goal is to close the budget gap, curb the special interests and insisting on fair compensation for state resources, also to respect the will of the people," he said. "If you want to change the business as usual in Juneau, you need to vote for a Republican Moderate."
n Mike Chenault: Chenault told the audience he is a 33-year resident of Nikiski, Kenai and District 9, and he manages his family construction business.
"I believe I can go to Juneau and represent the people in my district," he said. "I feel I know what the issues are. We have the fishing industry, (and) education is an important part of my thoughts on what we need to do."
Chenault was elected to the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board last year.
n Hal Smalley: Smalley thanked the Soldotna Chamber for inviting candidates from another legislative district to speak before them.
"When we first got the invitation I was like, 'Why Soldotna?' This hasn't happened before that I can remember that we came over and had a forum here," he said. "But it makes sense. It's a connection. We are all connected on the peninsula."
Smalley said he's been in Kenai since 1974. He is a retired school teacher and a former commercial fisher. He said it has been wonderful serving District 9 for the past two years because it is made up of communities that he said have been very good to him and his family.
n Linda Reynolds: Reading from a prepared statement, Reynolds said she came to Alaska in 1974 because the state was full of opportunity, was clean and wasn't corrupt.
"But today our state and quality of life is being seriously challenged. Our state has been reduced to a political dictatorship and I cannot stand by to watch this happen," she said.
She said the reason she is running for office is because local and state elected officials are ignoring the will of the people.
"My commitment is to make a difference, not just give the people the 'same old, same old,'" she said. "I believe the citizens of this great state deserve better from their representatives and I'm willing to give that to them."
Question: The first question came from Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jack Brown of Nikiski. He asked the candidates if they supported the ballot initiative calling for a statewide cap of 10 mills on property taxes.
n Chenault: Chenault said he would not support the 10 mill cap because it is coming from outside the district.
"If it was a district issue, if it was a borough issue, I could support it," he said. "But, personally, I have problems with different areas of the state determining what we may or may not tax ourselves at."
He said senior, fire and recreation services could be cut or lost if the cap comes to pass, but if it were voted on in the district and passed, he would not have a problem with it.
n Smalley: Smalley said that while he supports the initiative process allowing citizens to take part in governmental decisions, he will personally vote "no" on the 10 mill tax cap.
"I don't think it's in the best interest of our local communities," he said. "I think the question is the whole idea of home rule government."
He said citizens can best decide how funds are raised and spent in local municipalities.
n Reynolds: She echoed Smalley's feeling that the initiative process was a good one, but said she will probably vote against it also.
"I'm opposed to seeing money leave our borough and go to other districts," she said.
n Price: Price stood out by being the only candidate to publicly come out for the tax cap.
"I recognize this is a tough issue, but personally I'm going to vote for the tax cap," he said. "I've been hammered pretty hard for my position."
He said there is fat that can be cut in the budget, and that should be looked at.
Question: Former borough planner Lisa Parker asked the candidates what they thought was the single most critical issue in their district.
n Price: Price said the most important issue is runaway state spending.
"I believe our spending is well beyond our means of support," he said. "What's going to happen is they're going to spend up the Constitutional Budget Reserve and then they're going to have to either heavily tax each and every Alaskan or cut spending to the bone. What we need to do is come up with a long-range budget plan."
n Chenault: Chenault said the budget is a very important issue, as are roads.
"Last year, through no fault of constituents in our district, we lost our road service," he said. "We had very dangerous conditions out there all winter. No road maintenance; just one operator."
He said properly maintained roads are important so people can get to work and their children can get to school. He said the best way to keep road maintenance from being a political football is to have a representative in Juneau who can work through the politics.
n Smalley: Smalley said that without a doubt, the development of a long-range fiscal plan is the most important issue in the district and across the state.
"Until the state addresses a long range fiscal plan, I think it's going to stymie future development and industry wanting to come to the state," he said. "It's not something that's new."
He said he supports a plan that protects and grows the permanent fund and dividend and looks at budget reductions annually and gives Alaskans the best possible dividend check.
n Reynolds: Reynolds also said adequate roads is the important issue in District 9, especially in Nikiski with its oil and gas plants.
"Their tax revenue supports the entire peninsula," she said. "And if you look at all the road systems on the peninsula, that is probably the worst maintained road on the peninsula, and yet it generates more revenue for everyone who lives on the peninsula and that's kind of a disgrace to us all that that road is in the shape it's in."
Question: Suzanne Little, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula asked the candidates how they would assist in improving the education system in Alaska.
n Reynolds: Reynolds said reducing administrative costs and privatization through school vouchers were ways to improve the system.
"We're in a system that's very old and very entrenched ... when it comes to making improvements," she said. "When we open it up to competition, competition does move things along faster. It does produce a product and improve a product and the product is our children and their education and our future."
n Smalley: Smalley said he has been involved in other legislative measures creating programs such as Smart Start and the Quality Schools Initiative. He also talked about testing for teachers.
"Because you pass a test doesn't necessarily qualify you as a great teacher," he said. "We still need to continue to look to improving the quality of our professionals that work with our students and work in schools."
He said he strongly supports adequate funding for schools and smaller class sizes.
"Our children are our greatest renewable resource," Smalley said.
n Chenault: Chenault said technology is an area where peninsula students can be helped.
"I believe technology in the next few years will amaze all of us, and our kids need the opportunity to work with technology," he said.
He said some administrative costs can be cut. He also said smaller class room size is important, but will cost more.
"I think we should look at the funding system of the state and see if that needs adjustment," he said.
n Price: Price said the school systems needs to be held accountable for their programs.
"There has been legislation passed that have kept schools from being accountable, particularly the University of Alaska, for their product," he said. "I've seen from first-hand experience that they have programs that the university continues to expand, ... but if they have programs that don't work, they need to close programs down."
He said he has had questions the university has refused to answer, and he believes that is wrong.
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