A candidate forum aiming to help inform voters on who’s running for school board and assembly saw only about half of the invited candidates attend.
Eleven candidates running for Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education were invited to attend Thursday’s League of Women Voters candidate forum — an event hosted every municipal election to give voters an opportunity to meet candidates and have their questions answered. The event and the League of Women Voters are nonpartisan.
The League of Women formulated many questions for the candidates, but most of the questions came from audience members — who asked candidates about issues such as how to increase voter turnout, a changing climate, balancing the budget, the two propositions on the ballot, gravel pit-related ordinances and private property rights and how to retain the best educators.
Running for the Nikiski assembly seat, Jesse Bjorkman and Joseph Ross were at the forum. Running for the Soldotna seat on the assembly, Tyson Cox was at the forum. Brent Johnson was at the forum and is running for the central peninsula seat on the assembly. Dan Castimore and Patti Truesdell also attended the meeting, and are running for the school board seat in Kalifornsky.
John Quick, who is running for the Nikiski assembly seat; Holly Odd, running for the central peninsula assembly seat; Rose Henry, running for the Soldotna assembly seat; and Susan Lockwood, running for the Kalifornsky School Board seat, did not attend Thursday’s forum.
Wednesday, the day before the forum, a joint chamber luncheon hosted a similar candidate forum for those running for assembly. Henry, Odd and Quick did not attend that event as well.
Henry, Odd and Quick had not returned Clarion phone calls as of 5 p.m. Monday.
Lockwood told the Clarion via phone Monday she had prior engagements, but that voters can reach out to her with any questions they might have.
Sammy Crawford, a board member with the League of Women Voters, asked the candidates questions from the league and the audience. She said she’s been with the league since 1980 and has never seen a league event with many candidates no-shows.
“Every time we’ve invited people we’ve always had a great turnout,” Crawford said after Thursday’s forum. “It’s shocking to me. I’m absolutely stunned and really disappointed. It’s nonpartisan that means no political parties. It’s just to inform and it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
During the question and answer session, members of the audience asked candidates how important they felt these forums are for the community.
All of the candidates present said forums were important to voting process.
Castimore said he thinks attending forums are important.
“Not knowing the circumstances — life happens,” Castimore said. “I do think it’s challenging when you don’t show up to participate in these debates. I think it’s a good opportunity, but I get everybody has their own life.”
Ross said forums like the one put on by the League of Women Voters are important to get to know candidates.
“I think these forums are really important for people to ask questions and find out where we stand on the issues, to help pick the person you’re going to vote for,” Ross said. “If you don’t show up, how are people going to learn where you stand on these issues?”
Johnson brought up two concerns he had for candidates who didn’t show up to candidate forums.
“If somebody isn’t here, then they don’t have time, if time is the reason how are they going to find time later?” Johnson said. “… If someone isn’t showing up and they have time what are they hiding?”
Another audience question asked candidates to speak about several online “unfair attack” advertisements.
Bjorkman, who has been the target of some online ad campaigns, said it’s not how he chooses to operate.
“That’s not how I choose to run my campaign and I would never ever allow someone to do that on my behalf,” Bjorkman said. “I can tell the ads that are out against me are blatant lies and that’s not who I am as a man and that’s now what I stand for.”
Ross said some of the ads he’s seen online against certain candidates, has caused him to shake his head.
“If you’re slinging mud, you obviously don’t have anything else going on,” Ross said. “Maybe that will give you guys an idea of who not to vote for.”
Cox said he’s only been noticing negative campaigning in the last two election cycles.
“The comments I get from people is ‘well you know, you’re going into politics you should expect some of that,’” Cox said. “I have to stop them right then because we’ve only had that going on around here for the last two cycles. We have the ability to change that because if people aren’t getting voted in that are doing that, people will stop doing it.”
Johnson said he didn’t have problems with mudslinging, as long as it was true.
“Unfortunately, the ones about me happen to be lies, so that does bother me a great deal,” Johnson said.
No more candidate forums or debates are scheduled. Early voting is open. Election Day is Oct. 1.