Among the most contentious and vocal races for the Alaska Senate may be the one for the seat from Senate District R, a district that includes Homer, Seward and Kodiak Island.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Yourkowski, a member of the Homer City Council.
Stevens, a retired University of Alaska professor, was elected to the Alaska House in 2000 and 2002, but appointed to the Senate in February 2003 by Gov. Frank Murkowski, replacing Alan Austerman, who resigned to work for the Murkowski administration.
He has served as mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough, mayor of the city of Kodiak, president of the Kodiak Borough Board of Education, a Kodiak Borough Assembly member and has held numerous other appointed posts.
Yourkowski, a commercial fisher, was first elected to the Homer City Council in 1998. Prior to that, he was a member of the Homer Planning Commission.
Yourkowski has objected to Stevens' support of the closed caucus system and what he says is the Republican majority's desire to tap the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. He also says Stevens has voted against inflation-proofing education funding.
Among other positions, he supports consideration of an income tax, but only as a last resort, with a break for permanent fund recipients, and would like to see the ELF (economic limitation factor), which decreases certain taxes on oil companies, revamped.
Yourkowski is running as much against Stevens as against the policies of the administration of Gov. Murkowski, policies he said have cut essential programs and protections for Alaskans. Yourkowski says Stevens has supported those policies the great majority of the time.
Stevens has said closed caucuses serve a purpose for party strategy. He argues he has consistently expressed concerns about the fiscal gap and supported efforts to find solutions.
For instance, he supported the governor's percent-of-market-value (POMV) approach to managing the permanent fund and voted to put a POMV ballot measure before voters. That stance bucked his party majority. The measure ultimately failed to reach the ballot, but Stevens remains supportive of the idea.
Stevens also has run counter to administration policies, including opposing proposed new rules for mixing zones.
Stevens touts successful efforts last session to increase spending for education by about $87 million. He has said his priorities include promoting stability in the fishing industry, public health and safety, municipal assistance and support for veterans and seniors.
Further spending cuts, if there are any, are likely to be across-the-board in nature, Stevens said, adding "there are no sacred cows," meaning all ideas for savings must be on the table.
Candidate columns are printed on page A-4. Candidate questionnaires can be found on page A-6.
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