Voters from Senate District E had a chance to hear their candidates' views on Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. The forum was held at Paradisos Restaurant in Kenai and was moderated by Merrill Sikorski.
Three of the six candidates running for District E were present -- incumbent Jerry Ward, fellow Republican Brad Brown and Democrat Mike Szymanski. Not present were Democrat R. Michael Allegrucci, Green Party candidate William D. Bartee and Democrat Kurt Melvin. District E represents Kenai, Nikiski, parts of Kalifornsky Beach Road and South Anchorage in the state Legislature.
Questions at the forum covered a variety of subjects that provided a wide range of information about the candidates, their backgrounds and their ideas. Here is a summary of the questions and candidates' responses, in the order they were given.
The first question was:
"Why do you want to be a state senator?"
n Szymanski previously served in the Legislature from 1982 to 1990. He said he is running again because he is disturbed by partisan bickering in Juneau.
"We need someone in Juneau who will represent people in a positive, upbeat way -- a consensus builder who can work with Republicans, Democrats and independents, who will sit down with people and work with them to develop business and jobs for our area."
n Brown said his 26 years of experience with the Alaska State Troopers has helped educate him to the issues and needs around the state. He also mentioned growing up in Southeast Alaska, where tourism has supplanted timber and fishing as a major industry.
"My interest is to be able to develop our resources in such a way that it won't damage the environment but still see to the future needs of our young people and those of us approaching retirement."
n Ward is a lifelong Alaskan who has been the senator for District E for the last four years. He said he originally filed for office because he didn't like the way the government was spending money, and he wanted to change that. He said that job isn't done yet.
"We need to fund education and public safety and transportation, and, after that, government should keep their hands off people's money. Let people keep their permanent fund and decide how to spend it. Government is the servant, not the master."
The next question concerned the candidates' educational background.
n Ward got a GED.
He said he "quit high school and joined the Navy Seabees so I could go to Vietnam and kill the godless communists."
n Brown graduated from Sitka High School in 1967 and also joined the Navy Seabees and served in Vietnam. He joined the state troopers in 1973, and said he has taken educational courses related to that job.
n Szymanski attended school in Fairbanks and Anchorage. He also quit high school to join the Navy and served in Vietnam. Later he earned a GED. He attended UAF where he earned an associate degree in electronic technology. He was recruited by NASA to work at Gilmore Tracking Station near Fairbanks as a telemetry technician.
Sikorski then asked the candidates what their birth order was, and their most embarrassing moment.
Szymanski said he was seventh of nine children.
"My most embarrassing moment was when I walked up to a friend of mine and asked her how her husband was doing, and she said he had passed away, and I didn't know about it. It was a real foot-in-the-mouth kind of moment."
Brown was in the middle of his family, with one older sister and a younger brother. His most embarrassing moment happened when he was working in Healy as a trooper and pulled over a man who was speeding.
"He was traveling 85 miles an hour, and he said,'I've got to go to the bathroom real bad,' and I thought, 'Yeah, how many times have I heard that?' I had him in my car, and I heard a horrible noise, and he said, 'will you excuse me?' His pants were all wet, and I looked over at my seat, and it was quite damp. I felt very bad and embarrassed for him, but I learned from that how important it was to listen to people.
"And no, I didn't write him a ticket."
Ward was the third of six children.
His most embarrassing moment occurred while he was serving as chairman for Pat Buchanan when he was running for president and was driving him to the Matanuska Valley for a debate. They were late, and in a hurry, and got pulled over for speeding.
"Channel 2 News was right behind us, and the two other candidates who were supposed to debate with him were in front of us, and they turned around and came back. So here was this big media thing going on by the Eklutna Flats, and everyone was asking, 'Who caused this? Why aren't you at the debate?' And I had to say it was my fault."
The candidates were asked who the most influential person in their lives was.
Brad Brown said his father was, "because he taught me work ethics. Do a day's work for a day's pay."
Szymanski said his mother was most influential.
"She was married twice and had nine kids. She called them 'two litters.' Half of us are Republicans and half Democrats. I asked her why she selected me to be a Democrat, and she said, 'one of my litters had their eyes open, and one didn't.'"
Ward named Jesus Christ, who "became my personal savior on Mother's Day 1990."
The next question concerned the candidates' stand on the proposed 10 mill tax cap. All three said they are against it.
Szymanski and Ward were asked how they would rank their effectiveness as legislators.
"My job was to develop a priority list for things that affected my district and stay on top of it," Szymanski said. "I was very effective in getting legislation I authored passed into law."
"I was successful in completing the five-year plan of the Republicans to reduce government spending by $250 million," Ward said. "I passed legislation that was needed. I think we have too many laws. I tried to eliminate some of them."
Brown, who has not held an elected office before, was asked what he thought would make him an effective legislator.
He pointed out his efforts in getting the federal motor carrier safety regulations adopted in Alaska, while he was with the troopers.
"We involved the (trucking) industry right from the get-go. We weren't looking to put anybody out of work, but wanted to have a safety program up here. That's my experience in working with people to pass successful laws and legislation."
Sikorski then asked the candidates a hypothetical question: "If you campaigned on one side of an issue, then found out later that your position was wrong, but your constituents haven't changed their position, how do you vote on this issue?"
Brown said it's very hard to admit that you're wrong.
"But you do it based on the input that you have and you also show what was the difference. I'm open to change. I think that's what makes Americans Americans, is we're flexible, and we can work our differences out."
Ward said, "If I was wrong, I would vote the other way. But I can't think of a situation that I was wrong on."
Szymanski said he did have such a situation when he was in the Legislature. He was against raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, until he met someone who changed his mind.
"I was approached by a lady who said her 16-year-old son got drunk at Chilkoot Charlie's and played Russian Roulette with some friends and blew his brains out. This made me realize there were a lot of young, very immature adults who were having problems with alcohol. I then changed my mind and voted for it, and I was re-elected after that."
The next question concerned how the candidates intended to gather information on issues.
Jerry Ward said he relies on his staff for research, as well as contacts.
"If any of my constituents calls me on the phone, they get a call back. I try to stay in touch.'
Brad Brown said he just goes out and asks the people who are involved.
"I think you have to get down into the trenches before you can fully understand what's going on."
Szymanski said he gets information by talking to people.
"I make a note, I sit down, I start dealing with experts on that area and try to find a rational way to solve the problem."
Szymanski and Ward were asked what public perceptions in their legislative careers they feel are inaccurate and they would like to change.
Ward said, "It's not so much a perception as that I'd advise people not to believe everything they read in the Anchorage Daily News."
"One, I'm qualified to be a candidate in this election," Szymanski said. "Let's set that straight. Two, many Republicans and independents have come and asked me to run for office, because they think I'm a reasonable person who can bring about consensus building."
Brown was asked what perception he would want people to have of him if he is elected.
"I would want people to know that I represented them fairly in Juneau and listened to all aspects and was involved from the street all the way up."
Last, the candidates were asked what dream they have for Alaska in the coming century. Responses were addressed to a group of young people from the Boys and Girls Club that had come to the forum.
"I hope the young people in the room today are afforded the same great opportunity that Alaska has afforded me," Szymanski said.
"I'd like for you to be able to hunt and fish like I did when I was growing up, and have the freedom I did," Brown said.
"I'd like to develop some of these hundred million acres so these young people can have jobs, so they don't have to go Outside in order to make a living," Ward said.
Closing remarks wrapped up the forum.
Ward urged the audience to vote for him.
Brown said, "To be an effective leader, you have to learn from the past and plan for the future."
Szymanski said, "Reflect on what the Legislature has done in the past year or two, and vote accordingly."
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