Style, subsistence separate Senate E candidates

Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

Differences in style as well as on such issues as subsistence separate candidates in the race for the Senate District E seat representing Kenai, Nikiski and South Anchorage.

Challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward are Green Party candidate William Bartee and former Sen. Mike Szymanski, a Democrat. All three live in Anchorage.

Ward, who works in real estate, said his main goals are creating a smaller and smarter government and making sure government does a good job providing needed services.

"Where do we get the money to do that? We have to develop," he said.


Mike Szymanski

He favors additional consolidation in government, privatization of more state services and putting some of the 103 million acres of state-owned land in the hands of developers.

Bartee, a retired telephone worker, said his main goal is "to promote the Green Party as an alternative to the divisive politics we've been enduring and to get government more inclined to social and people business -- rather than just catering to the corporations that are taking business out of the state."

He criticized Gov. Tony Knowles and the Republican majority for making costly concessions to oil and timber companies. He said much of the state budget goes to subsidize industry -- building four-lane highways for tourism, for example. Meanwhile, Alaska loses jobs and income by exporting raw logs and ore.

"We need to quit corporate welfare," he said.


Jerry Ward

Szymanski, who manages vessels for a factory trawler company, said he wants to give voters the option for a more effective senator than Ward.

He cited closure of the Nikiski road maintenance station during Ward's watch and Alaska State Troopers' poor coverage of Nikiski. He criticized across-the-board budget cuts and said it is time to set priorities -- openly, not in closed caucuses. Alaskans may have to choose which programs the state can afford and which it cannot.

"The trade-offs may come in various forms: Do you want to sustain subsidized housing in Alaska? Do you want to sustain municipal assistance?" he asked.

Ward blamed Knowles for closing the Nikiski road maintenance station. The Legislature meant to cut management, not snowplow drivers, he said, and it attached its intent saying no roads should be left in an unsafe condition.

Dennis Poshard, legislative liaison for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, provided a copy of the Legislature's language, which reads, "It is the intent of the Legislature that the Department analyze the existing maintenance stations and close the number required to realize savings of $400,000 in both the Northern and Central regions. These maintenance station closures should not result in any roads that are currently maintained to go unmaintained."

"You can't close maintenance stations and cut only management," said Poshard.

Ward said the Legislature found money last spring to reopen the Nikiski station. Poshard said it has reopened with a staff of three.

The candidates differ on how to resolve the conflict between the Alaska Constitution, which guarantees all Alaskans equal access to fish and game, and federal law, which requires a rural priority for subsistence. The conflict led to a federal take-over of subsistence management on Alaska's federal lands.

Last year, the state House approved a ballot measure to amend the Constitution to allow a subsistence preference based on place of residence. Ward cast one of eight votes in the Senate that prevented the measure from going before voters.

Bartee and Szymanski said the public should be allowed to vote on the issue.

"I'm fundamentally not afraid of the public voicing their opinion on such a tremendous issue facing the state," Szymanski said.

Ward said voters should not be allowed to create a second class of citizens.

"Our Constitution says that all people are equal," he said. "The constitutional amendment being pushed by liberal Democrats says we should be able to create a second class of people based on ZIP code. I don't believe in discrimination."

Last year Ward opposed a ballot measure asking voters whether Alaska Permanent Fund earnings should be used to help pay for government. The question made the ballot anyway, but voters rejected it overwhelmingly.

"It was a phony vote to steal the permanent fund dividend," Ward said. "I believe the people who get permanent fund dividends have the right to decide how to spend the money. They can do it better than any elected official can. The problem is that government is too big for the amount of money we have coming in and for the population we have."

Szymanski said he opposes spending the fund's earnings on government without a vote of the people.

He said he has campaigned on his ability to build consensus because that is Ward's weakness.

"He is extremely disliked by members of our congressional delegation, by fellow legislators and by civic leaders," Szymanski said. "He is disliked because he appears to carry a badge of honor for being controversial and combative."

He cited an exchange after U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' 1998 address to the Legislature. Ward said Stevens should have supported a filibuster to block passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. That led to a shouting match, which ended when Stevens told Ward, "I'll tell you what, you run against me next time, will ya?"

Ward said he just wanted to ask Stevens why ANILCA was changed to mandate a rural subsistence preference rather than a subsistence preference for all Alaskans or for Alaska Natives.

"My question was, what is rural, and how did you come up with this, and how do you base it on Zip codes?" Ward said. "He didn't have an answer."

He contested the charge that he is ineffective.

"I'm a Republican. I'm in the majority. I believe I'm part of the process." he said. "I don't know that I align myself with anyone. I align myself with the philosophy of the Republicans ... or they align with me."

He said his prime goal is to represent his constituents, which, with the exception of one House member, do not include the governor, the lieutenant governor or the other 59 legislators.

Szymanski's position with the Fishing Company of Alaska has his critics questioning what benefit factory trawlers bring Alaskans and whether trawlers' incidental take of salmon contributes to the decline of Cook Inlet and Western Alaska runs.

Ward said the purpose of limited entry was to end Seattle's influence in Alaska's salmon fisheries, but Seattle skippers simply bought bigger and moved offshore.

"Now, they're scooping it all in. I believe that's part of the problem, probably what's going on with our wild runs," he said.

Szymanski said his employer is part of the headed-and-gutted fleet, which targets yellowfin sole, Atka mackerel and Pacific ocean perch.

"That fleet intercepts less salmon than one dipnetter can take in one weekend," he said. "We don't do pollock or Pacific cod. The predominant interception of salmon occurs in shorebased Pacific cod and pollock trawlers."

He said his job is to allocate vessels between fisheries, develop new programs and work on regulatory issues. He has created markets for salmon fishers.

"This year, I developed a new salmon-processing operation for Bristol Bay, which processed more than 3 million pounds," he said.

Despite his commercial fish ties, Szymanski's critics also have tried to link him to sport-fishing advocate Bob Penney, who many accuse of working to allocate salmon from commercial fishers to sport fishers.

"Szymanski is running because Bob Penney and Tony Knowles asked him to, because I won't let them have the permanent fund dividends to spend on government," Ward said.

Szymanski said that if commercial fishers feared his politics, he would not have won endorsements from so many commercial fishing groups.

"I'm proud of the fact that I've received endorsements from the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the United Fishermen of Alaska," he said.

He said neither Knowles nor Penney asked him to run -- he filed his candidacy with encouragement from National Bank of Alaska chairman Ed Rasmuson and his father, NBA chairman emeritus Elmer Rasmuson; Lynden Transport owner Jim Jansen and retired Cook Inlet Region Inc. president and chief executive Roy Huhndorf.

Szymanski said he will keep his Fishing Company of Alaska job, even if he wins a Senate seat. The legislative session is a slow time for FCA, he said.

Legislators who knew commercial fishing largely have retired, he said.

"I think it's time we got some people elected to the Legislature that know something about resource management and commercial fishing," he said.

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