This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Question: Should you be re-elected, what would your first priority be as Senator?
Answer: I have several that are right at the top of the list. Obviously, Alaskans are very concerned with the opioid-related crime and the increase we’ve been seeing. We have a lot of work to do in repealing and replacing SB 91 with more effective measures that hold criminals accountable. I have a resolution that I will draw up that puts the PFD in front of the people for a vote so that it can be protected in the constitution and not cut in the future by a future governor.
The budget continues to be my key issue. When I got into office the budget was around $8 billion for UGF (unrestricted general fund) spending. Now it’s about $4.5 billion. I think we have to continue to make sure we make it as tight as we possibly can and pass a spending limit so we have a manageable and sustainable budget in the future. Those are my key issues.
I continue to hammer on the social issues that plague our state as well. That includes (the fact that) we are number one for sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide. All of those items are related. We have a tendency to put them in silos, but they’re related to issues around Alaska. It requires our key focus so we’re not number 1 in those areas any longer.
Q: You narrowly won the primary race. What was the message you got from voters and what do you think they expect of you now?
A: Alaskans have made it very clear that they expect their dividend to be protected. What they don’t understand was that there was not a way for a single legislator to deliver that when it was vetoed by the governor and kept down by the governor and other budgets in the House. The only way to solve that is to protect it in the constitution. I do have the position, the power and the organization in the Senate, and hopefully, we have the House and someone in the administration in the governor’s seat that will help support that so it will get to the people and give them chance to weigh in.
Q: Do you support the annexation efforts the city of Soldotna is currently pursuing?
A: I have met with the city and I have met with landowners outside of the city and what I demand from the city administration is that they spend as much time as possible with the folks outside of the city to make sure that those people are heard. I don’t have an answer right now, but what I continue to do is pressure city administrators and the council and mayor to not move forward without greater communication with those outside of the city. I think it’s an important issue. I think it’s important because I understand both sides. But ultimately folks who don’t live in the city, don’t live in the city for a reason. I think their voices really matter and have to be heard through the entire process.
Q: Where do you see the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend?
A: I see the PFD being protected by the constitution. We are extremely fortunate that our forefathers had the foresight to create the permanent fund. A part of the permanent fund that became our reality and expectation for Alaskans is that their full statutory Permanent Fund Dividend is paid to them. I see the political demands as we saw in the results of the primary. To me, that was a clear message that Alaskans have an expectation for their full statutory PFD, the same statutory calculation that we’ve seen since 1982.
Q: Would you repeal SB 91, why or why not?
A: I would. We began repealing it two years ago. The key bills are SB 54 and HB 312, and what those bills did is rollback large portions of SB 91. In some cases stronger than they were before. We have additional things that must be done. One of the things that we have to do since most of the crime we are seeing is drug related, we absolutely have to significantly stiffen the minimum sentencing for drug traffickers. Like any market, it’s supply and demand. If we can choke off the supply, and then we can reduce the demand, that market will become not worth the risk for people that have likely moved here from other markets like Seattle and Los Angeles. We put them in prison for decades for trafficking drugs. We put them in prison for decades or there’s enough of a deterrent that they leave the state and go back to other places where it’s been more successful. The reality is they are destroying lives and should pay a similar price. We have increased the minimum sentencing, but I think it needs to go much further.
Q: What do you feel you accomplished last session?
A: Well, we accomplished a lot of things. What we were able to do when the administration tried to stop a temporary funding issue because oil had crashed from $107 to $29, we stopped all of those permanent impacts called taxes on Alaskans. There were 13 attempts. I simply refused to over fund the government. Now, we’re back in the $80 range where we actually balance even with a full dividend. The key going forward is to continue that effort. We passed a spending limit last year, the budget did. The house wouldn’t hear it and the governor wasn’t interested. We passed a work requirement for Medicaid; so that healthy adults can pull their own weight and one day succeed and not have the need for some of those programs. It wasn’t heard in the House.
We have a lot of accomplishments. Unfortunately, the way the system works is that you need 11 votes in the Senate, 21 in the House and the governor has to sign it to become law. The places we were most successful was stopping taxes and getting some reductions over the last four years. Where we can be far more successful in the future is where we have a team that can work together on a sustainable budget, a spending limit going forward. I think what’s most important to me is that Alaskans realize that this simply isn’t an entry-level job. We have some important issues facing us.
We’ve been successful. I’ve cut $400 million out of the operating budget and I was able to do that by even selling it to the Democrats, which is required. It’s a team sport. Going forward, we have some very difficult decisions to make. Paying a full dividend is a key issue; making Alaska safe again is a key issue. Dealing with the social issues that are causing a lot of the dependence on opioids or that are driving people into this lifestyle that eventually turn to crime is so important.
We have a lot of work to do and the reality of it is that I have the experience, the dedication, and the history to be able to bring people together to make these solutions. Being an island in the legislature does not work. We have a few of them and they simply have no way to be effective. It requires the ability to garner 11 senate votes, convincing the House to support it and then getting the governors signature. So, I respectfully ask the support of District O constituents on Nov. 6.