Homer mayor to run for Legislature

Homer Mayor Mary E. “Beth” Wythe has filed a letter of intent to run for representative of House District 31 in the Alaska Legislature, the lower Kenai Peninsula House district, and the seat now held by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

Seaton also has declared that he will run for re-election to an eighth term.

A registered Republican Party member, Wythe will face Seaton in the August 2016 Republican primary.

“I’ve had people asking me about this for more than a year,” Wythe said about running for the Legislature. “I feel that with the work I’ve done with the city of Homer, I’m probably in a good place to bring some value to represent the larger area. … It feels like a natural progression.”

Wythe, 55, moved to Homer in 1973 as a teenager and graduated from Homer High School. She has worked at Homer Electric Association for almost 30 years and in human resources for more than 25 years. She served eight years on the Homer City Council and was re-elected to a second term as Homer mayor in 2014. For the past eight years Wythe has been taking online courses toward a master of public administration from the University of Alaska Southeast and finishes up course work this semester.

“I’ll be trading college for campaigning,” she said.

Seaton, 70, said Wythe called him to let him know she was running.

“Like I told her, this is a democracy. Anyone can run for any reason,” he said.

On the Homer City Council and as mayor, Wythe has been fiscally conservative while at the same time advocating that it’s up to citizens to choose the level of government services they want and how they want to pay for that. She also has advocated a new public safety building.

“I feel like I’ve been able to be reasonably successful with the financial situation with the city,” Wythe said.

She cited her work in increasing city budget reserves from less than $1 million to amounts more in line with recommendations of auditors. However, in 2016 the city faces revenue shortfalls if it wants to sustain the current level of services.

“We have challenges ahead of us in the next year,” Wythe said. “As mayor that will be my focus. It’s not my intent to lose focus on that.”

The state faces even bigger budget challenges. That will most likely be one of the main issues in the 2016 state elections. At the current price of oil and expected revenues, the state faces a $2.9 billion gap in funding a proposed budget of $4.9 billion for 2016. Some of that gap can be filled with state savings, but that will run out after two or three years.

“It’s a glide path,” Seaton said of Alaska’ fiscal situation. “There’s no one solution that’s going to solve the problem. Limiting or slowing down the draw from our savings account is something we need to do quickly before our savings are gone.”

Wythe said she didn’t think she and Seaton differed so much on positions as on approach.

“It’s not that we don’t agree or disagree. We’re different people,” she said. “I feel like I would bring a fresh set of eyes, a fresh perspective. Often when you have financial interests going on, that fresh perspective is helpful.”

Seaton said he didn’t think his proposals for a state income tax and changing the rules for corporate income taxes have made him unpopular. At two town hall meetings in Homer and Ninilchik on the state budget that Seaton sponsored, he said citizens supported those ideas.

“The large majority of people have said as a proposal, that is a good solution that works as a reasonable and simple way to do things and get a significant portion of the tax from nonresidents,” Seaton said. “Most people don’t want to have the economy crash.”

Wythe said she’s comfortable with the approach Gov. Bill Walker has started — having a frank conversation with Alaskans about fiscal realities.

“The resolution is going to come from the citizens of Alaska. We’re going to have to engage, we’re going to have to be vocal, we’re going to have to be educated,” she said. “To me it is a big issue, but it’s not a daunting issue. It’s not something that can’t be resolved, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work for all parties involved.”

District 31 Republican Party chair Jesse Clutts said because there is a contested primary, the party cannot endorse any Republican Party candidate. He said it’s good to have choices,

“Personally, I hate to see when you go to a ballot and you don’t have choices. What’s the point?” Clutts said.

District 31 Democratic Party chair Liz Diament said to her knowledge no Democrat has yet filed for District 31 representative.

Wythe said if she’s elected she would retire from HEA and be a full-time legislator. Wythe has set up a website, bethwytheforhouse.com. She will make a formal announcement later this month.

Seaton is a commercial fisherman. Seaton’s website is votepaulseaton.com.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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