3 run to fill District 7 assembly seat

With the incumbent term-limited out, three people have thrown their hats into the ring for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 7 seat representing Kasilof, Clam Gulch and Ninilchik.

Distrct 4-Soldotna assembly member Dale Bagley, and District 3-Nikski assembly member Wayne Ogle are running for re-election unopposed.

Assembly member Brent Johnson, who has served on the borough assembly since 2010, will leave the District 7 seat after the Oct. 4 regular election. Ninilchik resident Debbie Cary, Kasilof resident Bill Holt and Kasilof resident Paul Fischer will compete to replace him.

Cary, a co-owner of the Inlet View Bar and Restaurant in Ninilchik with her husband, is a regular at the borough assembly meetings. She said she decided to run upon receiving a number of requests.

“I’ve never run for public office — I’ve never even been interested in public office. I think things are changing, and we need to start thinking outside the box,” Cary said. “…We need to look at the borough as a whole. The decisions we make today don’t affect us — they affect our children.”

A longtime volunteer teacher at the Ninilchik School as well as a mother of four, she said she wants the borough to begin to think outside the box on how to deliver education to students in its vast district, such as additional classes delivered remotely or opening up homeschool classes to students in traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

“I think we have to remember that we have a huge district, and as an assembly person, they’re also inclusive of that particular area,” Cary said. “We can’t forget about Seward because they’re so far away or Seldovia when we’re making decisions. I’m saying, let’s step outside of our box and look at the big picture and do what’s best for everybody.”

Health care reform is a frequent topic in the borough assembly, with the Healthcare Task Force meeting monthly to discuss potential borough-level regulation changes and the peninsula’s three hospitals considering measures to control the rising cost of both health care procedures and insurance premiums. Cary has advocated for merging the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area and South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service area, evening out the sharp difference in property tax mill rates between the two.

Like the situation with education, she said she would like to see the borough consider new strategies to manage the hospitals, service areas and health care costs in general.

Keeping people educated is one of her major points, she said. Public information about taxes has played a strong role in the recent discussion about the possible relocation of the boundary line between the two hospital service areas, and Cary said the availability of information can make people ask questions about government and taxation they would not have been able to before.

“I want to help people. I want to help people understand, I want them to make good decisions,” she said. “And if there’s false information, let’s look at it from a factual standpoint and get it right. And you look at it and say, ‘Is this really the goal of the Kenai Peninsula Borough?’”

Election to the borough assembly would be a familiar seat for Fischer. He left the seat for District 7 seat in 2010 after being term-limited out, served in the Legislature from 1982 to 1992, and served on the assembly before being elected to the Legislature in 1982. Fischer served in the Legislature during the financial crisis of the 1980s and said he would bring experience of both the political system and financial management to the borough assembly.

“In the ‘80s in Alaska, we had a tough time,” Fischer said. “I was in the Legislature, and we took a can-do attitude and got over it. I see the same attitude right now — the state has no money, which reflects back to the borough. We’ve got to have a can-do attitude about it.”

The challenges to senior citizens are a major motivator for him, he said — the upcoming vote to reduce the senior property tax exemption, the fluctuating state of the nonprepared food items tax in Soldotna and the rising cost of living all affect seniors on fixed incomes, he said.

“The seniors are seeing everything going up, and they have a fixed income,” Fischer said. “Somewhere, we have to alleviate so they don’t keep going in the hole.”

Health care is another major concern for him. When the borough last examined the governance of its two hospitals through a task force in 2010, he said he opposed partnering with a larger corporation because the community might lose control of what happens there. A cancer survivor who had to travel outside the community for care, Fischer said he appreciates the services available at the hospitals and wants to keep them robust.

The borough does need to look further into trimming its budget, though, he said. He agreed with the current borough administration’s decision to reduce some expenses this year, such as closing Central Peninsula Landfill for a day each week, but said there were other places he would look to reduce the budget.

Holt, the trails manager for the Tsalteshi Trails System just outside Soldotna and a commercial fisherman, has sat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education for the past eight years. He decided to step down from that seat, though, to make a run for the assembly seat. He ran once before, in 2007, but lost to Fischer, who was the incumbent. Holt could not be reached as of press time.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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