4 apply for Gilman’s assembly seat

Four people have applied for a vacant seat representing the city of Kenai on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Shauna Thornton, Hal Smalley, Jill Schaefer and Thomas Randell Daly have submitted their names as candidates to replace former assembly member Blaine Gilman, who resigned from the assembly in January after moving to a house outside the boundaries of his district. The application period closed Thursday afternoon, and the assembly will interview Gilman’s replacement during the committee meetings before the general assembly meeting on Feb. 14 and vote on the appointment at the general meeting.

Thornton, a legal assistant and Kenai Peninsula College student government advisor, ran for the Alaska House of Representatives in November on the Democratic ticket but lost to Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai). She has been involved in numerous charitable programs in the central Kenai Peninsula area since she moved to the peninsula in 1990 and serves on the City of Kenai’s Harbor Commission.

She said one of the major reasons she applied for the seat is to encourage young people to get involved with the assembly process. On the budget, she said it was difficult to come up with specific goals without getting into the details of it, and the borough will have to have contingency plans based on what comes out of the Legislature.

“We’re going to have be realistic,” she said. “We’re going to have to have common sense, we’re going to have to be very thoughtful.”

For Smalley, the seat would be a return to the assembly after a few years’ absence. A retired teacher, he served on the Kenai City Council for 11 years before being elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1998, serving one term. He was elected to the borough assembly in 2008 and served there until reaching the term limit in 2014. Most recently, he ran a campaign for mayor of Kenai against Brian Gabriel in 2016, narrowly losing the seat by a little over 100 votes after the absentee votes were counted.

Smalley said he would look to the borough budget if chosen for the position. The borough has three major funding responsibilities — education, solid waste and roads. There are other responsibilities included, such as fire and emergency services, but those are funded primarily by service areas, he said. The borough will also have to adjust to a new administration in the fall when a new mayor is elected after current Borough Mayor Mike Navarre reaches the term limit, he said.

“I have an interest in the assembly,” he said. “For the six years I served on there, we accomplished a lot of good things. I think there’s a lot of good things to accomplish in the borough.”

Schaefer, who moved to Kenai approximately three years ago from Wasilla, currently works with the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, a nonprofit advocating for mining, oil and natural gas industry companies. With young children in school, she said she realized “you pretty much can’t beat the Kenai Peninsula for raising a family.” On the assembly, she said she hopes to represent the generation raising families right now.

“I think I’d be a good fit for the seat because I think it would be great to have someone representing the age group raising young families,” she said. “Families are affected by the policies that are made.”

Although she said she has worked on political campaigns and on advocacy issues with the Alliance, this would be her first political position. Moving forward with the budget, the borough is going to have to look carefully at expenses and consider cuts, which “isn’t fun for anybody,” she said.

“The budget is going to have to be looked at (by) line item, itemized, to see what is necessary, what’s mission-essential to get the borough functioning,” she said. “… What it comes down to is the state is facing a huge deficit, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the Legislature.”

Daly, the owner of HiSpeed Gear in Soldotna and a talk radio host, has previously run for Kenai City Council and served as the president and interim director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. He has also helped to organize Republican Party events on the peninsula, including the presidential preference poll that took place in 2016 and has worked with the Kenai Rotary Club.

Daly could not be reached for comment as of press time.

One of the most high-profile issues on the assembly for the past year has been the ongoing controversy and lawsuit over the assembly’s invocation policy. Smalley, Thornton and Schaefer all said they felt the lawsuit was a waste of money. Thornton and Schaefer said they supported a moment of silence instead, and Smalley said he would have at least tried to keep the borough out of the lawsuit.

Gilman’s resignation is the second of three resignations since Jan. 3, when Knopp resigned to take up his role in the Alaska House of Representatives. The assembly chose Brent Hibbert to replace him at the Jan. 3 meeting, and Hibbert participated in his first meeting Jan. 17.

Assembly member Brandii Holmdahl also submitted her resignation at the Jan. 17 meeting in anticipation of relocating to Boston for work. Applications for her seat, which covers a district from eastern Sterling to Seward, are open until Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. So far, only one person has applied — Kenn Carpenter of Seward, who ran against Holmdahl in the October 2015 election.

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

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