Voters in Kenai, Soldotna and Kalifornsky would appear to face an attractive dilemma this election year choosing from among candidates clearly qualified to represent House District 33 in the Alaska Legislature next year.
Tuesday, these those voters will have a chance to pare that number by one when they decide between incumbent Rep. Kurt Olson, of Soldotna, and Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, both Republicans.
Olson and Carey spoke Wednesday at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at Paradisos Restaurant, along with Democrat and long-time Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Pete Sprague, who is running unopposed in the Democratic Party primary and will face the Republican winner in November.
All three candidates have long histories of public service and private sector experience to draw from should they win election to the House. Wednesday they explained why they wanted the Juneau job and answered still another round of constituent questions as they entered the final days before Tuesday’s primary.
Olson said he wanted to see his children’s children and his great-grandchildren have the same opportunities that he’s enjoyed in Alaska.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m running again,” he said.
Carey said he learned young about political activism and getting involved. He said he filed for office because he wanted to discuss important issues.
Sprague said he wanted to be an agent for change.
“We need a ch-ange of leadership in Juneau. An entire session and two special sessions to address PPT (Petroleum Profits Tax) is too long,” he said.
He also said he supports ethics reform and an end to partisan politics.
Asked what special projects needed funding in District 33 and what they would do to bring funding to those projects, Sprague said there were three issues of prime importance, revenue sharing to municipalities, meeting the challenges of “the 800 pound gorilla in the room” the debt to employee retirement programs, and unfunded mandates, such as the senior citizen property tax exemption that the state stopped paying for in the late 1990s.
Carey agreed that unfunded mandates were an important problem.
“They should stop making laws if they are unwilling to provide the funding,” he said.
Carey also said the state should “stop humiliating” parents, teachers and students by compelling them to come to Juneau each year hat in hand seeking adequate funding for schools.
Olson acknowledged the process is flawed but said the Legislature, this year, had funded education by mid-March. He credited Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, who is running unopposed in District 34, with pushing hard for more education funding.
Besides more money for schools, Olson said roads needed further funding.
The candidates were asked what they would do to stimulate the local economy.
Carey said the legislative session should be moved to Kenai, which has access to roads, year-round airport and buildings with windows to the outside.
“Leave the governor in Juneau. I don’t really care what you do with the governor. Leave the Supreme Court in Juneau. They could still function,” he said.
Sprague said that to build up the economy he would keep the tax rate low to make more capital available to grow business, have an educated work force and ensure a solid infrastructure.
Olson said he would continue doing the kind of things he’s been involved in over the past couple of years work on resource development. He said he would continue efforts to speed up the permitting process and said he had sponsored a resolution dealing with oil platform abandonment.
The candidates were asked their stands on Proposition 2, which among other things would impose a head tax on cruise ship passengers. All three said they opposed the measure.
All three said they did not favor an end to the commercial fishing of silver salmon.
Olson and Sprague ex-pressed deep concerns about the potential for environmental damage posed by a Pebble Mine project, but also gave it qualified support on the presumption that there would be adequate and long-term oversight of such a project.
Carey expressed the most enthusiasm for the project, saying it would mean jobs and tax revenues for the borough. But he, also said he would not support it if it meant destruction of other resources. He said there needed to be follow-ups on permits and vigorous environmental regulation enforcement.
A lawsuit against the state set for a court date in October alleges the state has failed to fund education adequately. The candidates were asked what should happen to funds that might result from a successful court decision.
Olson said the money should go to classrooms. Carey said it should go to students. Sprague noted the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly had just voted Tuesday not to join the pending suit. But said a legislative solution would be best.
On the use of closed-door caucus session in Juneau, Carey said he understood the occasional need, but said difficulties arise when they corrode the public process. Sprague said he does not support closed-door caucuses. Olson said they are often necessary, common especially by the majority party, and a practice unlikely to change.
Carey closed by saying he has been getting up early every day rain or shine to wave and hold campaign signs on street corners to let voters know he is willing to rise early and work hard on their behalf.
Sprague said there were serious issue facing the state, and he would continue to place public service above politics.
Olson said he hasn’t been out campaigning because he’s been working 12-to-14-hour days this summer in special sessions in Juneau hashing out petroleum profits tax legislation. He said no one liked the bill eventually passed but it was something they all could live with.
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