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House candidates debate positions

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Alaska House District 36 candidates Dan Ortiz and Chere Klein meet with potential voters following an Oct. 9 debate at Wrangell City Hall, broadcast live by radio station KSTK. They took turns fielding questions on a variety of topics, laying out their positions on policy and presenting ideas for addressing issues important to the state and region.

Candidates for Alaska House District 36 met in Wrangell Thursday evening for an on-air forum hosted by radio station KSTK.

Republican candidate Chere Klein and Independent Dan Ortiz – both from Ketchikan – are running in the Nov. 4 election to represent the district's communities in the State Legislature.

KSTK's director Cindy Sweat acted as the evening's moderator. Candidates were given five minutes apiece for opening statements, alternating who got to answer questions posed by the public first.

Winning the initial coin toss, Klein spoke first.

"I have a pretty broad understanding of District 36," Klein said in her introductory remarks.

In addition to managing several businesses and a consultancy, she has also served in a number of voluntary groups, on the Ketchikan Charter School Governing Board, and on the United States Forest Service's Resource Advisory Council.

She has also recently served as a staffer for Rep. Peggy Wilson, who currently represents the district.

"The last two years working for Peggy in Juneau has taught me how the legislative process really works and what is necessary in Juneau to represent our district," Klein said. "Knowing when to compromise or push back is essential."

Describing herself as a business owner and political conservative, Klein stressed the importance of continuing to provide a friendly business climate, which she argued can best be accomplished by a member of the legislative majority.

Second to speak, Ortiz introduced himself as a non-partisan candidate with a platform focused on putting citizens first before special interests and political partisanship.

"I will work tirelessly for the interest of the community of Wrangell," he said. "Specifically, my platform includes pushing for Phase II funding of the Wrangell Marine Service Center and associated harbor property for business and job opportunities."

He also promised his support for mariculture and stressed the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway as essential to infrastructure in Southeast.

After the opening remarks residents had the opportunity to ask policy questions of the candidates.

"What I would like to do is to look at oil revenues," stated Bruce Eagle, Wrangellite and commercial fisherman of 40 years. In particular, in light of declining oil revenues and state budget deficits Eagle wanted candidates to each list two cuts and two new revenue sources they would support if elected.

Ortiz replied he would find savings in budgeted capital projects; there are some significant, big projects that are on tap for state support. "I don't think we can do all of the projects."

Specifically, he mentioned the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project being undertaken by the Alaska Energy Authority, and the Knik Arm Bridge project that would cross Cook Inlet. According to their project overviews, these are projected to cost $5.19 billion and $700-800 million, respectively.

"In good times I think they would be good projects," Ortiz commented.

As to raising revenue, Ortiz replied, "That one is a tough one."

He explained cuts would have to be made first before exploring revenue enhancements like raising taxes or capping the permanent fund dividend.

"I don't think we're there yet. I think that's a regressive thing to do," he said, adding that it would affect those in the lower-income bracket more than those who are better off financially.

"This is the biggest issue that's going to be facing whoever represents us in our Alaska state legislature," said Ortiz.

Klein responded that cuts would be difficult to implement.

"We certainly have to look line-by-line through all the different divisions, but we have to be very careful when we're doing that because there are so many things that are intertied with the federal monies." She said these federal funding sources are often connected across projects and even departmental lines.

"Most of the things are interconnected, and we have a tremendous amount of federal funding that feeds through almost all the programs that we have in our capital budget," Klein added, estimating that some 60 percent of that is federally funded.

"One area that I would like to see the budget cut immediately is a water primacy plan that we've just recently looked at taking over," Klein responded.

Senate Bill 27 would have the state assume primacy over implementation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, including associated management costs.

"The (Army) Corps of Engineers and the EPA are doing a fine job of it," she said. "I would certainly take that right off the burner."

As for new revenue, Klein was supportive of resource development and broadening Alaska's place within the global market.

"We are a resource-rich state, so we have to continue to develop our resources and of course do them in an environmentally sound manner," Klein said.

Specifically, she said supporting the Alaska LNG natural gas pipeline project would be her number one priority. "That's going to be huge for our state."

Other topics raised included Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage, Canadian mining and reviving the region's timber industry.

Even the district's outgoing representative stepped to the microphone to ask some questions.

Wilson wanted to know how Ortiz expected to effectively represent District 36 if he is not caucusing with the Alaska House Majority. She explained a representative in the minority party has to ask to join the caucus whose members then vote on whether to accept the request.

"Having said that, I want to add one point here. Never ever has there been anyone allowed to join the caucus that has run against a Republican," said Wilson.

"I also have been told by the leadership in the House that there has not been someone from the minority invited in if they've run against a Republican," Klein said. As a Republican, she would automatically be voting with the majority caucus.

"I have been assured by people on both sides of the aisle that if I win on election night I will be called and invited into the caucus," Ortiz replied, adding that he has pledged to join the caucus that better serves the interests of the district, likely that of the majority. He went on to say two Democrats had served in the majority during the last legislative session.

"I have no question that I will have the opportunity to do so," he said, adding "in any case, I think that is not going to be an issue."

On its website, the Alaska House Majority directory currently lists four Democrats as caucus members: representatives Neal Foster (D-39, Nome), Bryce Edgmon (D-36, Anchorage), Bob Herron (D-37, Bethel) and Benjamin Nageak (D-40, Arctic). Of them, Edgmon has thrice beaten a Republican candidate in a general election, in 2012, 2008 and 2006.

The full audio of the candidate forum can be heard online at http://www.kstk.org.

"We had a really good turnout," Sweat had said afterward. "I think this went very well."

 

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