Editor’s note: The story has been updated to show that Chenault was previously, not currently, Speaker of the House.
Ahead of next week’s election, the Clarion is talking to candidates vying to represent peninsula communities. Independent Shawn Butler and Republican Ben Carpenter are competing for Alaska House of Representatives District 29. District 29 includes areas in Nikiski, Seward, Hope, Cooper Landing, Sterling and Funny River. Butler or Carpenter would be replacing longtime representative Mike Chenault. Chenault was first elected in 2001 and was previously Speaker of the House.
If elected, what would your first priority be?
A long-term fiscal plan because everything follows from that.
What ideas do you have to offset the state budget deficit?
One is that I think we need to invest in programs that actually enable Alaska to grow. For instance, I support the state getting involved in infrastructure that creates residential broadband. I know we have on the peninsula about a hundred thousand to help get that going, but that’s not sufficient. And I think when we invest in things like residential broadband and not paying for peoples’ residential broadband, but investing in the infrastructure, then what you get is telemedicine, which reduces health care costs. You get e-commerce because people can get online and sell their stuff online and market. And you get distance education which helps reduce the cost of education. And you get happy people because they can communicate with their loved ones more easily. If we invest in infrastructure like that, then people can use it to make money and we can grow as a state.
Where do you see the future of the PFD?
We should get our full dividend. I think it’s important that it stimulates our economy when it comes out. I know there are people in my district that depend on it, not just for TV sets, but for staying in their homes. I’ve talked to several people in my district who said it makes a difference between whether they can live in their house or not live in their house. I think it’s an important piece of sharing in the resources the state has to offer, so I’d like to see people get their full dividend.
How can you, or the legislature, help cope with the ongoing opioid crisis?
It’s a complex problem, but one we have to address — the public safety system that arrests and put people in jail that do in fact sell the drugs, push the drugs. We want to be very hard on drug dealers. I want to monitor physicians that over prescribe. The other thing we have to do is invest in the mental health facilities in our state. They are so pathetic. The people that get hooked, I don’t think a majority of them want to be hooked. I think we’ve got to provide resources. It does no good to put them in jail. We’ve got to provide the resources to help them get off their addictions.