District 8 candidates Ken Lancaster and Pete Sprague addressed the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce at a candidate forum during the chamber's weekly luncheon Tuesday at the Riverside House.
Terry Coval moderated the mostly congenial discussion.
Coval asked the candidates his first question without asking them to deliver their opening remarks. Lancaster responded to the question, about legislative priorities, but Sprague insisted upon delivering his comments.
Sprague said his campaign emphasized the differences between the two men. He called their differences large and said their experience with education and their Sept. 14, 1999, votes on the dividend were two of the biggest differences. Sprague said the differences between himself and Sprague were as obvious as the differences in their vehicles.
"Ken has a Campaign 2000 motor home, and I have a Campaign 2000 bicycle," he said, referring to the placard-bearing bicycle fixed to the roof of his truck.
Sprague also attacked an ad in which Lancaster said he would "change his mind to make things work."
"That's not leadership," Sprague said. "I state my opinion to make things change. ... I will stand up for what I believe."
In his opening remarks, delivered after Sprague's, Lancaster pointed to his experience as a public servant as well as his role as a member of the chamber board from 1993-94. He said he played an important role in improving the relationship between the chamber and the city of Soldotna.
He also responded to Sprague's remarks.
"I don't have a problem changing my mind," if the people support changes, he said.
Lancaster also emphasized the importance of determining budget priorities and revenue sources.
He further said that through his past roles in the community, including more than 20 years with the Homer Electric Association, he has made important contributions to the area. He specifically mentioned HEA's role in acquiring the fiber-optic line that serves the region and its schools.
Having made their opening remarks, the candidates answered Coual's questions.
Question: What would your No. 1 legislative priority be?
Lancaster said establishing a budget plan for Alaska is his highest priority and that the state cannot proceed without one. He said he looks forward to having the next two years to develop such a plan.
Sprague said that education, for grades K-12 as well as secondary education, is his top priority. He said that the state seems to have been pursuing economic stability "from time immemorial." He said he believes that an educated population can expand industry and provide that stability.
Question: Do you support the privatization of state functions?
Sprague said that while he thinks privatization may be feasible in some areas, he is wary of it in others, especially prisons and railroads. He said that government is not necessarily efficient, but that it is accountable. Accountability, he said, is of greater importance when considering such government functions as police and rescue services. He added that efficiency might not necessarily be the result of privatization anyway.
Lancaster said he would favor examining privatization and added that he would also like to explore consolidation of some departments. He said the state should consider privatizing prisons, which he said works in other states. He said that the state should take advantage of the potential savings privatization and consolidation may offer.
Question: Do you support the 10 mill tax cap initiative?
Both candidates said they oppose the proposed tax cap.
Question: What are your ideas for making Alaska more attractive to Outside businesses?
Sprague said that an educated and trained population able to work with a number of industries would attract businesses to the state. He also said that making natural resources available for extraction by improving roads, railroads and air service would attract businesses. He concluded by emphasizing the need to strengthen the state's technological resources and its services.
Lancaster said he wants to avoid burdening businesses with excessive regulations, but he also said he wants industries to maintain environmentally sensitive practices. He said the state's transportation system must be efficient and affordable and that the state should take advantage of its position in the global market. He also emphasized the need for a trained and educated workforce.
Question: How do you feel about the subsistence issue, and what would you do to resolve it?
Lancaster said he opposes federal management of Alaska's resources. He said Alaskans should vote on the issue "after a lengthy public discussion."
Sprague called the issue one of the most divisive ones facing the state and said it is crucial for the state to bridge the divide between its rural and urban populations.
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