Senate District Q candidates faced each other once again Tuesday, this time at a candidate forum before a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience.
With a week to go before the Aug. 27 primary, the event drew the election's three Republicans, Sen. Jerry Ward, Joe Arness and Raymond VinZant, as well as the lone Republican Moderate, Tom Wagoner, and one of two Democrat hopefuls, Patrick Hawkins.
Absent were Green Party of Alaska candidate Thomas Stroman and Democrat Kurt Loyal Melvin.
Wagoner and Stroman, as their parties' only candidates, will be on the November general election ballot regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election. The others are in a fight.
As the incumbent, Ward stuck to familiar themes, reiterating his positions that the state should put some of its 100 million acres of publicly owned land into private hands, that the natural gas pipeline should be built and that the state revenue streams will swell when resources are developed.
Spending should be controlled, he said.
"Essential services, to me, are public safety, education and transportation and everything else should be on the table for consideration," he said.
He also said he expects U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski to be the next governor.
"We will finally have the leadership from the administration that we need to have," he said.
Arness told the audience he got involved in the senate race because he thinks Alaskans have lost faith in the Legislature.
"The people are concerned because fiscally, the state of Alaska has fallen on to really hard times," he said. "We haven't admitted it yet."
He said many Alaskans are confused about how things happen in the capital.
"Part of that is geography, but an awful lot of it is just the nature of the beast and the people whom we have been sending there."
VinZant said the state Legislature is not doing its job.
"I will spend 365 days a year working for the state of Alaska and the people. Mainly the people," he said.
He said the education funding formula used by the state to fund school districts should have been changed a decade ago. He also said tapping of the Constitutional Budget Reserve every year wasn't necessary. He said the entire budget should be "redefined" and that he believes between $2 billion and $3 billion could be cut out of overall state spending.
"We have too many goody things that we are giving away to every little nook and corner of the state of Alaska," he said.
Wagoner said he supports term limits and that lawmakers should serve only so long and then move on.
"You can only do so much. You can only have so many ideas, and then it's time to make room for somebody else to come in and follow up on those ideas and bring new ideas to the table," he said.
He said he remains a fiscal conservative. He said he supports education and doesn't believe Kenai Peninsula schools are getting the financial support that's needed.
"We don't need any new funds, but a redistribution of funds," he said.
Wagoner asked for voters' support, but said he recognizes that it may be hard to get votes because of the nature of the primary.
"The primary is a real mess," he said. "I think we need to do something about that. We need to be voting by mail, voting by computer. Let's get our heads out of the sand, folks. The last primary, we had 17.3 percent of the people vote in this state. And nobody is doing anything about that."
Hawkins told the audience he was only going to give them straight talk.
"I'm not going to stand up here and say 'cut a billion dollars out of state government.' It's not going to be done. If it could be done, why wasn't it done five or 10 years ago by the legislative leaders that we elected?"
He said none of the other candidates have shown him where $1 billion could be cut.
He said you hear "a song and dance" about the money that is being spent, but the reality is the state of Alaska is different from other states.
"It's the biggest state in the United States. We have communities that can only be served by boats or airplanes. Cost of living up here is higher. We have a permanent fund and give everyone $1,500 to $2,000. But nobody wants to pay for anything. Fact is the money is running dry from the oil companies. Do you want to face reality? I'm your choice."
On the question of subsistence, Arness said he favors putting an appropriate constitutional amendment on the ballot and letting the public decide the question of whether there should be a rural preference.
"I believe in the wisdom of the ballot box," he said.
Ward said the "major problem" is that Gov. Tony Knowles "sold out the state of Alaska," when he dropped suits against the federal government over the issue. He said any amendment should not discriminate against people and should allow the state to "manage the resource," not people.
Wagoner also favors a constitutional amendment.
"You can stick your head in the sand all you want to, but eventually something has got to happen," he said, adding that when push comes to shove, the federal government is going to win every time. The state must define subsistence and rural and determine who can participate. He said it was "more of a Bush question" than an urban one.
VinZant said he disagreed.
"All people are entitled to resources," he said. "Subsistence, if it is worked right, can work for all."
He said an amendment was not the answer. He said subsistence should be defined as what it was when fishers hunted fish and whale with spears from unpowered boats. Fishing with a commercial net and fishing boat was not subsistence, he said.
Hawkins said he would support a ballot measure.
"Let's turn it over to the people. Let them vote it up or down and let the governor and legislators make a decision based upon the vote," he said.
On other issues, the candidates all agreed that more funding should be focused toward vocational education.
There was some disagreement over whether the way oil development revenues are shared between Alaska and the federal government should be changed in order to win congressional approval to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. Under the statehood act, Alaska gets 90 percent, the so-called 90/10 split. The question was whether the candidates would favor a 50/50 split.
Wagoner said 50/50 was better than nothing, which is what Alaska would get unless it changes its position, because development won't happen otherwise.
Arness said the state should avoid "having to fire sale" the oil because it is desperate for money. Alaska, he said, should deal from a position of strength.
Ward said the state should stick to the 90/10 deal.
VinZant said there is no real answer. As a general principal, he said, Alaska should stand up for every right it could.
Hawkins said the state should get its fiscal house in order so Alaska isn't forced into a less advantageous percentage.
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