The contest for the Alaska Senate seat from District Q pits a Republican incumbent who's decision in the last session left him outside the bipartisan power block, and a Democrat who says he isn't about party politics.
Sen. Tom Wagoner, of Kenai, is seeking a third term. In his political career, Wagoner has served three years on the Kenai City Council, and three years as the city's mayor.
He has been in business and also has served as dean of vocational education and dean of instruction at Kenai Peninsula Community College.
His challenger is Dr. Nels Anderson, of Soldotna, who served 15 years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, beginning in 1993 until this year when he decided to run for state office.
A longtime physician, he served as chief of staff at Central Peninsula Hospital from 2006 to 2008.
Below are thumbnail sketches of the two candidates and some of their positions on important issues.
A strong believer in balancing budgets, fiscal discipline and using funds in areas that make sense, Nels Anderson says Alaska should learn from its boom and bust past, spend what it must and save judiciously.
He said he doesn't believe there will be much of a surplus to deal with in the next fiscal year, now that the price of a barrel of oil has fallen.
"They will probably be enough to deal with this year, but then it may be back to deficits," he said.
Anderson is a proponent of bipartisan cooperation, saying on his website, "We need cooperative solutions and not party rhetoric."
Government is not about parties, he said, committing to "vote my conscience" on any issue. He said he would be willing to join a bipartisan coalition to get things done.
Anderson has spent 15 years serving on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education. He advocates fully funding schools and said the state's failure to appropriate money in line with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's area cost differential has cost the district as much as $200 million since 1984, he said.
"That's inexcusable," he said.
He favors utilizing Internet and satellite technology to offer specialized courses throughout the state. He said he supports fully funding the Teacher Retirement System and Public Employee Retirement System.
More than 110,000 Alaskans are living without health insurance and watching healthcare costs skyrocket, said Anderson. While Alaska is "at the mercy" of policies set at the federal level, he said, there are steps that could be taken at the state level to make more efficient the way the Medicaid and Medicare systems are used. He said he'd work to find answers and "be part of the solution."
Incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner says moving a natural gas pipeline project along is a priority and one of the reasons he's seeking another term.
The project needs to be "bulldogged to the bitter end," he has said.
He's also said he worries that lawmakers who were not behind the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) would strangle future funding. Earlier this year, the controversial AGIA process led to an agreement with TransCanada Corp. to pursue a gas line from the North Slope to the Lower 48.
As important as that was, however, the recent financial collapse and the steep slide in oil prices is likely to make the FY 2010 state budget the top focus for lawmakers in the coming session, Wagoner said. Cuts would come in the capital budget, which he said should be more about repairing what exists than funding new infrastructure.
Wagoner was a member of a five-Senator Republican minority caucus during the last session. Although Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the body, other Republicans joined a bipartisan coalition dominated by Democrats. Wagoner's decision not to join may have cost him. For instance, in his statement printed in the statewide voter pamphlet, he said his efforts to address energy cost relief early in this year's session fell on deaf ears. The Senate, he said, declined to hear the bill.
"My proposal was to provide $750 per household as an annual relief on utility bills, which could have negated federal income tax obligations while still providing much needed relief," he said.
Wagoner said he doesn't regret his decision, but added that he would join a coalition if he is re-elected, but only if Republicans, rather than Democrats, led it.
He has also said he would continue pushing for early funding for education, paying down the state debt, a capital budget that treated all areas of the state equitably, and a long-term fiscal policy.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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