Freshman Republican Rep. Ron Gillham held a town hall in his home district this weekend to catch community members up on what he’s been doing in Juneau.
Before an unmasked crowd at The Catch in Soldotna, Gillham spoke about the new bills he’s brought forward since beginning his term.
“We started out just kind of small," he said.
The first bill Gillham introduced would have broadened eligibility for free hunting and sport fishing licenses to more veterans and members of the military. He said that bill has been pulled for now, as the state figures out how much it would cost.
But Gillham says he’s optimistic about his second bill, to name the new bridge over Juneau Creek Canyon after U.S. Rep. Don Young. The bridge is part of the new Cooper Landing bypass project.
Gillham says there was previously a motion to rename the Glenn Highway the Don Young Highway. But a member of Dunleavy’s administration told him it would have been too expensive to change the addresses of everyone on the road.
“He says, ‘But, what about this. They’re building this bypass, they’re going to build a bridge over Juneau Creek. It will be the longest spanning bridge in the state,'" he said. "And a light went on. Longest spanning bridge? The longest sitting congressman."
He says he doesn't think there will be issues with the bill since there’s no money involved.
The Alaska Legislature currently has multiple bills related to voting on the table. Gillham says he supports Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower’s bill, Senate Bill 39, which would cut the program that automatically registers voters when they sign up to receive the Permanent Fund Dividend. The bill would also develop a system to track ballots from the time they're printed.
Those in opposition to the bill have said it would make it more difficult for people to vote. Gillham pushed back on that idea and says he wants to ensure there's no voter fraud.
“You’re going to have to be able to somehow prove one vote. One vote, one count, that’s it," he said.
Gillham also said he’s concerned about the introduction of Dominion Voting Systems machines to the peninsula.
Dominion machines are ADA-compliant, so people who are vision impaired can vote privately. The borough is planning on buying seven and leasing 26 in response to a 2015 lawsuit to make elections more accessible to people with vision problems.
Though numerous audits have found those machines safe and secure, they’ve become a rallying point for President Donald Trump and his allies, who falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged and say machines like those helped.
A large part of the afternoon was spent on funding for education. Gillham sits on the House Education Committee and says he’s concerned the state is spending too much on public school and not getting enough back.
“They have the arts program, the arts. And granted, teaching somebody to draw is fine," Gillham said. "If you have the money, that’s good. We don’t have the money.”
He said he’s been asking those involved where they can make cuts.
Gillham also said his team is talking to the legislative liaison with the University of Alaska to turn a section of land by the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank into a community farm, for people on the Kenai Peninsula who are food insecure.
“So if we can get the college to say ‘Yes, we can do this,’ we will give these people a garden," Gillham said. "Cause I’ll tell you what. People don’t want the handout. They want to do it themselves.”
He said he wants to figure out a way to put it together without adding costs for the state.