Republican Mike Chenault is running for his eighth term as the Alaska State House Representative for the northern Kenai Peninsula, opposed by a write-in campaign from Seward teacher Pedro Fernandez.
First elected in 2000, Chenault has been the House Speaker since 2009. Professionally, he’s the vice president of Qwick Construction Company. In the upcoming legislative term, he said his top priority would be the state budget.
“We’re going to have to continue addressing the size of government, and the revenue stream we have right now, and that’s not sufficient to provide the funding needed for all the services that Alaskans are wanting and requiring,” he said. “… I’m sure that during this legislative session, there will be many income measures (that) come up, such as an income tax, sales tax, alcohol, tobacco — you name it there’s a tax out there for it. We’re going to have to look at those and determine what effect it’s going to have on the Alaska population.”
Chenault said his plans if elected include proposing a sale of state land to private ownership, adding that he hasn’t worked out specifics of the sale and intends to consult with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to do so. The sale, he said, would bring in state revenue and increase the amount of private land in Alaska.
Aside from budget matters and the land sale, Chenault said oil tax legislation will could come up and he’ll probably be involved in it, but that it will depend on what others deem as important legislation.
In the past legislative session, Chenault sponsored a bill related to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, the state-owned company that manages the state’s interest in the AK LNG Project’s planned natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski. House Bill 282 would have added two non-voting members of the legislature to AGDC’s seven-member board of directors. The bill was held in the House Resources Committee in February 2016, where it ended the session.
As the AK LNG project’s private partners negotiate handing their project assets to the state and state administrators speculate on possibility of taking greater — or complete — ownership, Chenault said the legislature will have to decide whether to appropriate further funding for the project. He said he didn’t have enough information on the project’s future to take a stance on it, adding that he’s “not real comfortable with the state of Alaska owning 100 percent of this project without knowing how we’re going to finance it, how we’re going to build it, how it’s going to be operated.”
“Right now there’s not much information out there about what way the administration wants to go,” Chenault said. “They went to the Asian market, and our three big partners in this project have not quite left the project, but they’re not wanting to be the lead on the project anymore, so we’re going to have to have those conversations as to why not, and what does the administration know, if anything, that gives them confidence that this project will move forward, versus what the Legislature wants.”
Chenault’s write-in opponent Fernandez was a Bernie Sanders-supporting delegate at the Alaska Democratic Convention, where he said “it was brought up that he (Chenault) was running unopposed.”
“So I stood up,” Fernandez said. “That’s where I made the decision to run. And ultimately the state is where I want to make the biggest change. I want to make election reform, and election reform is going to be found at the state level. I want to make education reform. I want to make campaign reform.”
Fernandez said he’s a currently a substitute teacher in Seward, and previously taught high school math in San Antonio, Texas, as well as in Wasilla and Houston, Alaska.
“My intention is to go to law school,” Fernandez said. “But I became a teacher because eventually I want to write policy, and I want to know what I’m talking about.”
Fernandez said he’s been a part of negotiations between school districts and teacher’s unions in Alaska and Texas, and that he heard the same arguments in negotiations in the Mat-Su Borough and the Kenai Peninsula, convincing him that school funding problems are systemic and exist on a state rather than local level.
“The districts and the superintendents are constantly arguing,” he said. “Usually about health care. But you know, we’re on the same side. And it never made sense to me. We shouldn’t be fighting against each other.”
His planned education reforms are centered on the idea that politicians shouldn’t be writing education policy,” he said.
“Basically, we need to bring in the superintendents, the union leaders for educators,” Fernandez said. “And I want to put to task the University of Alaska College of Education. These are ideally our smartest people. They could work for us.”
Running a write-in campaign without a party, Fernandez said he hopes to challenge the way elections operate.
“My opponent for State House District 29, more than Mike Chennault, is the Republican Party,” Fernandez said. “Because people just see an ‘R’ and go after it. The question should be, ‘Why is the party ID on the ballot anyway?’”
In August 2015 the Alaska Public Offices Commission fined Fernandez $150 for filing a disclosure report — which listed no activity — three days late. Fernandez appealed the fine and the commission members are considering reducing the fine to $37.50. As of his latest filing on Oct. 4, Fernandez has reported no campaign income or spending to the Alaska Public Offices Commissions.
According to his October 31 campaign disclosure filing, Chenault’s campaign had a funding surge in October. Since Oct. 8, he received $5,250 from 17 donors for a total campaign income of $17,225. In the previous reporting period, from Aug. 7 to Oct. 7, he’d raised $1,700.
Seven of Chenault’s October donors were political action committees representing optometrists, realtors, hotel and lodging interests, rural electric interests, the American Medical Association, and employees of Tesoro and BP Alaska. In the October reporting period he spent $3,369 — including $1,982 on radio ads, $329 on ad mailing, $350 on food for a fundraiser, and the rest on transportation and a donation of movie tickets to Nikiski’s Halloween carnival.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.