Legislative candidates have been on the stump for months; now it's time for voters to take what they've heard, read and digested and make some hard decisions.
Before ballots are marked on Tuesday, voters need to answer for themselves this question: Which candidate will make the most effective legislator?
Here's how we've answered that question for Kenai Peninsula legislative seats:
House District 7
Vote Drew Scalzi.
Scalzi brings with him a variety of experience: eight years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, three years on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, three years on the Alaska Coastal Policy Council and two terms on the borough's road service area board. That experience gives Scalzi the edge over his opponent, Amy Bollenbach, who has spent much of her campaign blasting the Legislature's Republican Majority.
Scalzi's background in local government issues, plus his knowledge of Alaska's fisheries are needed in the Legislature.
His will be a fresh, but not a naive, voice.
House District 8
Vote Ken Lancaster
Vote Ken Lancaster.
All voters in the state should be as lucky as those in District 8. Soldotna Mayor Lancaster, the Republican candidate, and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Pete Sprague, the Democratic candidate, stand on sound records of public service. They're consensus builders. They're hard workers. They don't thump their chests to make their accomplishments known. We can't imagine that either of them would ever be an embarrassment to their constituents.
Lancaster has the edge over Sprague in at least two ways, however.
First, Lancaster's legislative priorities are in order. His emphasis is on a long-range budget plan for the state; Sprague's is on education. No doubt education is critical -- we'd rank it at No. 2 -- but until the state gets its finances straightened out, it will be difficult to implement long-range solutions to other problems, no matter how thoughtful one's vision.
Second, Sprague is still in his first term on the assembly. He should complete at least one full-term of local office before moving on. Right now, his talents are best put to use by serving peninsula residents on the assembly.
Lancaster's experience in local government, with Homer Electric Association, in private business and as a lifelong Alaskan give him an extensive network to draw on and make him the right person at the right time for this legislative seat.
Vote Hal Smalley.
Smalley, who is just finishing his first term as a legislator, deserves to go back to Juneau. As one of his constituents recently told him: "... you don't fire someone who is doing a good job."
Republican Mike Chenault and Republican Moderate James Price have been worthy opponents. They both, however, could use more experience in public office. While Chenault's expertise in private business could be put to good use in the Legislature, he should, at a minimum, finish out his term on the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board before seeking higher office. Price, who has no experience in public office, has used his campaign to raise questions about "politics as usual." His positions favoring the tax cap and hemp initiatives, however, are irresponsible and are reason enough to not take his candidacy seriously.
Smalley, a Democrat, has shown his ability to work across party lines to get things accomplished for Alaskans. His years of municipal experience, his background as an educator and the completion of his first term in the House combine to make him the strongest candidate for the job.
Senate District E
Vote Mike Szymanski.
Whether you see incumbent Sen. Jerry Ward as a man of principles or an obstructionist will determine how you vote in this race.
We take the latter view. It's one thing to have principles; it's another thing to alienate a vast number of people in standing by those principles. Unfortunately, Sen. Ward delights in alienating people. His attitude is: If you don't agree with me, you're wrong. The most glaring example is his refusal to let Alaskans vote on resolving the subsistence issue.
Ward's maverick style can be appealing on the surface, but it's ineffective in getting things accomplished. In fact, it always gives him an easy out. He can rail against the governor or members of the Republican Majority, which ever best suits his purpose, when things don't go his way. He, of course, never has to take any blame because he's standing by his principles -- or sticking out like a sore thumb, depending on one's perspective.
What's particularly troublesome is that Ward has been excluded by other peninsula legislators on issues of importance to the peninsula -- including seeking a fisheries disaster declaration from the governor. That doesn't serve the peninsula well.
Szymanski, a former legislator, was right to target his strength and Ward's weakness -- the ability to work with others -- in his campaign. Like it or not, the Legislature needs to function as a team in getting things accomplished for the good of all Alaskans. All members of the team don't -- and shouldn't -- hold the same views, but it's imperative they respect different ideas and not contribute to the divisiveness plaguing politics today.
Our hope is Szymanski will use his considerable skills in working with others across party lines and consensus building to accomplish much for District E. Our one regret is that there is not a Kenai Peninsula resident running for this office.
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