This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
In less than a week, Alaskans will select their party nominees in the primary election. All three candidates running for the District 29 state Senate seat, which encompasses Nikiski, Hope and Seward, debated issues from the liquid natural gas project to state income tax to funding education in a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.
Shawn Butler of Hope, who is running as an Independent, and Republican candidates Ben Carpenter and Wayne Ogle of Nikiski are hoping to replace long-time representative Mike Chenault in the Legislature. Butler is a retired Lt. Colonel Army officer who has been living in Alaska since 1991. She has worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage as an adjunct computer science professor. For several years, Butler served on the Kenai Borough Hope and Sunrise Advisory Planning Commission. She is also the president of Hope’s Chamber of Commerce.
Carpenter, who has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years, is a business owner. He lives in Nikiski on a peony farm with his family. For the last 20 years, he served as a member of the Alaska Army National Guard.
Wayne Ogle is a Nikiski resident who has lived in Alaska for 14 years. He served for 24 years in the U.S. Coast Guard and worked as the public works director for the City of Kenai from 2008 until his retirement. In 2013 he was elected to represent Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly and currently serves as president of the assembly.
When asked what their first priority in the House seat position would be, Butler emphasized a need to look at issues in health care.
“We can do a lot better job at bringing the costs down,” she said. “Health care is number one and comes with a long-term fiscal plan.”
Ogle said his focus would be on the Alaska LNG Project — a megaproject set to bring a large natural gas liquefaction plant to Nikiski — while Carpenter said his priority is to reduce the overall cost of government.
All of the candidates said they do not support the Stand for Salmon campaign. Both Ogle and Butler agreed that ballot initiatives are important, while Carpenter said initiatives can be a double-edged sword.
The candidates all agreed the LNG project will succeed if it is backed by partners and investors and if risks can be mitigated.
“The state needs to not do this alone,” Carpenter said. “We need our business partners involved.”
“Any issues with the project need answers,” Ogle said.
All three believe the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has benefits for Alaska.
“ANWR is a good thing for the state,” Butler said. “I think we can open it up responsibly.”
On the question of taxes, both Ogle and Carpenter opposed a state income tax.
“We don’t need to be punishing our producers,” Ogle.”I think it’s abusive for people who are supporting their families.”
Carpenter agreed and said money generated from a state income tax is unnecessary.
“I can think of a lot better ways to raise money if we needed to,” Carpenter. “We should never have to talk about an income tax.”
Butler said she supported a progressive wage tax, which she said would leave more money in Alaskans’ pockets in the long run.
The candidates all agreed on the importance of an uncapped Permanent Fund Dividend. Ogle said he thought Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to cap the dividend amount was a slap in the face to Alaskans. Carpenter said the money would be best used in the hands of the people and not the government. Butler said new revenue sources will keep the dividend from being capped.
“We need to keep the dividend because it’s a huge economic boost,” Butler said.
While Butler said she supports the expansion because it helps Alaskans who need it, Carpenter and Ogle said the Medicaid expansion should be repealed and often leads to residents taking advantage of the system.
“We need to find a solution to medical care problems that doesn’t involve government,” Carpenter said.
All candidates said they would support Pebble Mine if the correct processes are taken to determine the effect of the mine on the landscape and the cooperation of mining companies with the state.
“If you can’t achieve Pebble Mine without damaging the ecosystem then don’t do it,” Carpenter said. “We need sound science.”
When it came to criminal justice reform and the recent increase of crime in Alaska, Butler said it would be important to increase the budget for public safety, allowing for more troopers and prosecutors. Carpenter said the recent crminal reform omnibus needs to be repealed. Ogle said he was a huge believer in the broken glass theory, in that if the small crimes are managed it will have an effect on larger crimes and create a safer place to live.
“The train has left the station for repealing SB 91,” Ogle said.
Ogle and Butler agreed the cost of funding education is expensive for the quality. Carpenter said he supports privatizing schools.
When it came to Alaska’s opioid crisis, Butler and Ogle supported increased awareness and treatment and decreased accessibility to opioids.
“We need to make sure opioids aren’t dispensed like candy,” Ogle said.
“Centers that help people are super important,” Butler said.
Carpenter, who said his family lost two lives to heroin, supports keeping drug dealers in prison longer.
“The solution is hope for the hopeless,” Carpenter said. “Don’t look at the government to stop this problem.”
The primary election will take place Aug. 21.