Incumbents sent back to Juneau: Central Peninsula voters re-elect Olson, Chenault to House seats

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Republican incumbents swept local State House races on the Kenai Peninsula as polls closed on Tuesday night.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Isaac Erwin and his sister Abigail guide their mother's ballot into the ballot box Tuesday afternoon with help from election worker Karolann Whetsell. Tanya Erwin said she has been bringing her kids to the polls for years. "It's fun to help my mom and dad. I like having a part in what people do," Abigail said.

Kurt Olson, of Soldotna, took District 33 with nearly 76 percent of the vote, while Mike Chenault, of Nikiski, took District 34 with 80 percent of the vote.

Olson and Chenault were challenged in their bids by Soldotna's Dick Waisanen, who ran on the Democratic ticket; and Nikiski's Ray Southwell, who ran on the Alaska Independence Party ticket, respectively.

Olson, who has served in the house since 2004, said he was excited for the opportunity to return to Juneau for another two years.

"I'm humbled I think would be the best word," Olson said. "We have term limits every two years and I'm pleased that the residents of District 33 have confidence in me."

Looking forward, Olson said his priorities will include controlling state spending; saving any surpluses for what he says will be lean years to come; securing a reliable supply of natural gas for Southcentral through new drilling in Cook Inlet and gas storage; "monetizing" the state's natural gas reserves in the North Slope; and developing a stronger economic climate to promote job growth.

His opponent, Waisanen, who took 24 percent of the vote, was making his second bid against Olson after an unsuccessful campaign for the seat in 2008.

Waisanen said, however, that part of his reason for running was to give voters a choice, and to bring issues to the table.

"Some of the issues I tried to raise in the campaign, hopefully people might ask Kurt (Olson) about them, and maybe he'll look at some of them differently," Waisanen said.

He said he was also hoping to break the 70/30 split that typically divides his district.

"It looks like people are happy in Juneau with the way the state's going with its largest budget in so long. I guess they're happy with spending," Waisanen said.

Waisanen said that after his last bid he said he wouldn't do it again, but he was hopeful someone else would run on the Democratic ticket in the future.

"In this district it's very hard to find a Democrat to put (his or her) name out there," he said.

Chenault, too, said he was looking forward to making a return to Juneau. Chenault has held his office since 2000.

"I think the people in my district are saying they're comfortable with job I'm doing and I'll continue to work for the best interest of the people in my district," he said.

One of Chenault's biggest priorities on the campaign trail was his push for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to tidewater.

"We'll see the group we put together getting a full report back in July," he said. "Depending on what comes of that, we'll continue to push it through the session and if numbers look good and we can put together a deal may push for special session."

Chenault said he has also said he plans to again vie to be Speaker of the House.

Southwell, who took 20 percent, also threw his name in the ring for the District 34, saying he was happy to have had the chance to run.

Southwell could not be reached Tuesday night for comment.

Bonding Proposition B

The measure to enact a $397.2 million bond package providing funding for a number of different projects across the state, including more than $30 million for Kenai Peninsula College, was headed for approval with more than 58 percent.

The school's Soldotna campus is in line for $14.5 million for construction of a Career and Technical Education Center and $16 million for a 96-bed student housing facility.

The school's director, Gary Turner, has touted the projects as integral to the campus's development.

Funding for the projects will flow as the bonds are sold.

If all goes accordingly, Turner said money could become available as early as December, with housing ready for occupancy in the fall of 2013 and the tech center 9-12 months later, in a best case scenario.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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