Candidates for the Northern Kenai Peninsula House District 29 agreed on more issues than not in a forum held by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday in Kenai. There were differences in priorities and approaches, however.
Ben Carpenter is a 1993 Nikiski High School graduate who is retiring from 21 years of military service this year. He has a peony farm with his family and works as project manager for Epperheimer, Inc., and says his lack of political experience is a mark in his favor.
“We cannot continue to do the same thing that we’ve always done. We cannot continue to think the same way that we’ve always thought and expect different results. We need people out of the communities who have never participated in politics to step forward and get involved. And that is the only way that we are going to right this state,” Carpenter said.
His first priority is cutting government.
“The challenge is that the economy is showing signs of turning around and the discussion will be less on spending less and more on spending more when we have more money. So my focus will be on continued reduction of spending because it is too high as it is,” he said.
Carpenter will face Wayne Ogle on the Republican Primary ticket. Ogle spent 24 years in the Coast Guard and served as the public works director in Bethel, then Kenai. He’s represented Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for the last five years and thinks his governmental experience will help him in Juneau.
“It is very important when you go down to Juneau to that you have some experience because inexperience wastes time, spends money and delays things really getting done,” Ogle said.
His first order of business would be supporting the AK LNG project and its terminus in Nikiski.
“I’d like to see that landed for my district — I think that represents an awful lot of jobs — as well as for the entire state of Alaska,” he said.”
Shawn Butler is running as an independent, so will automatically make it to the general election. She’s a retired Army officer, teaches in the computer science department at the University of Alaska Anchorage and runs a bed and breakfast in Hope, where she lives.
“As an independent, I’m tired of the stagnation over partisan politics. I just want to get stuff done. I think that we need a long-term vision for this state that not only manages the spending cuts but also looks to generate new revenue,” Butler said.
Her main priority is reducing the cost of health care in Alaska.
“For employers, health care costs are one of the highest costs that most employers have, and I think that we can do a lot better job on health care and bringing the costs down,” Butler said.
All three describe themselves as conservative and broadly agree on many issues. They support opening ANWR to oil drilling and allowing the Pebble Mine to go through the permitting process. They oppose the “Stand for Salmon” Ballot Measure One, saying the permitting process that currently exists provides adequate environmental protection.
They all oppose cutting or capping the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and all support workman’s compensation but think the system needs to be reformed to cut down on fraud and waste.
On whether the state should institute an income tax, Ogle and Carpenter are opposed. Ogle says it’s “abusive to producing people” and isn’t necessary with the current price of oil. Carpenter thinks the priority should be cutting government, rather than raising revenue. Butler favors a progressive wage tax as part of a long-term fiscal plan for the state.
“I think we need lots of different solutions to balance the budget. I am for a progressive wage tax, only because we are already right now suffering from, you can call it a lack of a permanent fund dividend, you’re paying that tax. You’re not getting the money for your resources. Those are your resources, those are our resources and we need to definitely spread the cost of government across multiple people, and a wage tax would tax the people that are coming to our state that don’t live here and yet use our services,” Butler said.
Regarding crime, Butler and Ogle think lawmakers should continue improving the legislation that’s already in place, especially in imposing stricter consequences for Class C felonies to stop what’s called “catch-and-release” crimes. Butler also says there should be more funding for public safety. Carpenter thinks Senate Bill 91, the criminal justice reform bill that took effect in 2016, needs to be scrapped altogether.
“We need people to be able to stand up and say, ‘You know what? It didn’t do what we thought it wanted it to do, we hear you, we’ll repeal it and we’ll put place what should have been put there in the first place,’” Carpenter said.
Education funding is one of the biggest costs in the state. Ogle thinks the Department of Education could stand some reductions and is happy that the federal government seems to be leaving states alone for the time being. Carpenter says education should be privatized altogether, while Butler says the answer is improving the quality we get for our investment in education.
On the AK LNG project, Carpenter says the state needs to stop pursuing the project on its own and bring back its business partners. Butler says she would support Nikiski and the borough through the federal permitting process and wants any risks or issues that might arise to be addressed.
Ogle also wants to see the permitting process go as smoothly as possible.
“One of the big issues is basically getting investors involved with the project. That has to happen; it hasn’t yet. Also, making sure that the FERC process does go forward. I do believe that the FERC process is an honest process in which issues can be put forward and if the issues cannot be answered, we should not go forward with the project,” Ogle said.
The Primary Election is Aug. 21.