It sounds like the beginning of a joke — a businessman, a pastor and a rancher presented their views on local government to a full house of area residents.
While the audience did have some laughs following various comments from the three candidates for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor, voters on Oct. 7 will be faced with the decision of who should serve as mayor for the next three years.
Incumbent Mike Navarre, who has years of business experience overseeing his family’s Arby’s restaurants and RadioShack stores in Alaska is challenged by Tom Bearup, pastor at Family Bible Fellowship Church, and long-time area rancher Carrol Martin.
The three answered questions regarding local and statewide issues at a forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday.
Navarre’s political experience includes serving as borough mayor from 1996-1999 and in the Alaska Legislature from 1985-1996. He said while his business experience is important to his work as mayor, so are relationships he has built at the local, state and federal levels. His administration, he said, works as a team to provide quiet oversight and responsibly manage the borough’s budget.
Bearup served as Soldotna mayor, chief executive officer in the sheriff’s department in Maricopa County, Arizona and said he was the lead advance man for President Ronald Reagan. He said if elected, he will protect property rights, promote healthcare choice, find a solution to flooding issues, encourage new businesses and will be a “senior rights mayor.”
Martin, along with ranching, has worked in education and the oil and gas and commercial fishing industries. He is an active volunteer with 4-H, the Alaska State Board of Agriculture, the Alaska Creamery Board, the Kenai Peninsula State Fair Board and others organizations. He said he doesn’t need the mayor’s salary, so if elected, he will hire two assistants to work on firebreaks and promote agriculture in the borough.
When discussing local issues, the topics focused on the borough’s budget and economic growth.
Martin said he is torn on the issue of non-departmental funding because his business, Diamond M Ranch, benefits from the partially borough-funded Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council to market his business, but it also uses his tax dollars.
Bearup said he wants departments and non-departmentals to present budgets that show where money has been and will be spent as well as business plans for the organizations.
Navarre said he supports funding non-departmentals, and while the organizations have been topics of discussion during budget sessions, the assembly has supported the funding on final budget passages.
“(Non-departmentals) are all important and the funds that we put into them, the borough and its residents do get a return on that investment,” Navarre said.
To encourage economic development in the borough, creating a strong workforce is important along with a stable tax base and responsible land management, Navarre said.
Martin said education is the key to economic development with future jobs coming from high-quality vocational education.
Bearup said the government should attract new businesses and enhance already established businesses by buying locally to enhance the economy.
The candidates were asked their positions on the three measures on the state’s general election ballot.
Measure No. 2 asks voters whether marijuana should be legalized.
“Well, I’ve never tried marijuana,” Martin said. “And they say it’s a good pain killer and increases your appetite, so maybe that’s in my future, but probably not.”
He said he doesn’t think outlawing marijuana is working well and said it’s a matter of making people responsible for their behavior.
Bearup said he doesn’t support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but is interested in learning more about the benefits of medical marijuana.
While he hasn’t read the proposition, Navarre said he is inclined to vote against marijuana legalization.
“I do think that we need to take a look at incarceration under the marijuana laws because I think that we have far too many people in prison as a result of that,” he said.
On Ballot Measure No. 3, which proposes to increase the minimum wage, Navarre is in favor because employees should be paid living wages. Raising the minimum wage will have positive effects on people’s lives, he said.
Martin said there should not be a “ceiling or a floor” on wages.
“I wish that employers would pay people for … the service or the work they put out,” he said. “The harder you work the more you make.”
Bearup is against raising the minimum wage because, he said, it will lead to inflation. In restaurants, he said, waitresses typically get tips, which provide “a good income” for them.
“My position is a free enterprise system,” he said. “If you go out and you treat your employees well, you pay them well because you don’t have to give them the minimum wage. You can give them more than what they would get as a minimum wage.”
Measure No. 4 asks voters if they would approve an initiative to protect Bristol Bay salmon and waters flowing into the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. This would be done by requiring the Legislature to approve proposed large-scale metallic sulfide mines in the reserve by passing a law that finds the mine doesn’t endanger the fishery.
Bearup said he didn’t know enough about that issue, but he wants to protect the habitat as much as possible and work with the fisheries and find the best solution for everyone involved.
While he said he is not against fisheries protection, Navarre said he will likely vote against the measure, but he has yet to read the initiative.
“We have a regulatory structure and a permitting process in the state of Alaska that I think works pretty well,” he said. “I think it’s dangerous precedent to be setting our standards and our policies in this fashion on development issues.”
Martin said he is opposed No. 4 and that mining can be done safely. He said other mining projects are in the works that “might be a whole lot worse than Bristol Bay.”