On Tuesday, voters in Senate District O will decide which candidate between incumbent Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna and Eric Treider, of Soldotna, would best represent them in Juneau.
Micciche compares his role as a state lawmaker to that of a deckhand with 40,000 skippers in charge of a ship named District O.
“I’ve spent 32 years as a community activist and commercial fisherman that understands the oil and gas industry in a district of active community people that fish and work in the oil and gas industry,” he said. “I feel my balance between responsible development and demand for a high quality of life is the right balance to be an effective legislator.”
Treider took the leap into politics because he believes state politicians have forgotten who they work for and he felt compelled to help facilitate change from “big business” interests to addressing the social needs of the people in the community.
Treider said he has three vital legislative priorities with no room for compromise: health, safety and education. “Everything else is on the table,” he said.
Micciche and Treider are both candidates for Senate District O, which encompasses Soldotna, Nikiski, Cooper Landing and Seward.
Treider, the non-affiliated candidate, works as an oilfield technician for Schlumberger in Nikiski and volunteers for Kairos Prison Ministries. His only experience in politics was as a campaign director in Green Bay, Wisconsin, working for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign, he said.
Treider said he decided to run as an independent because he would like to be someone who pulls together competing factions and works toward solutions rather than be “labeled and pigeonholed.”
“We all share common goals,” he said. “We want security, opportunity, education, and we want people to earn what they get.”
Micciche was first elected to the senate in 2012. The most important lesson he learned during his first year was that politics is a team sport that hinges on the relationships developed with the other senators, house representatives and the governor, he said.
“You have to be trustworthy, do the things you say you are going to do and your word has to be good,” he said. “We have a great team in Juneau. This district has benefited significantly from this administration.”
On the issues
Micciche said the last legislative session focused on turning around the economy and addressing the oil tax structure with Senate Bill 21, which voters opted to keep with the failed repeal of Proposition 1 the August Primary. About 70 percent of the voters in District O voted in support of the bill.
Despite the drop in the price of oil, SB 21 included a 35 percent base tax, the highest in Alaska history. It raised the state revenue from what it would have been under the ACES system, he said.
Micciche said, if re-elected, his focus during the 29th legislative session would be to deal with the operating and capital budgets that has “gotten out of hand” and make the necessary changes to have the most efficient state budget.
“We are going to get into the weeds and get into departmental budgets and challenge them first on efficiency and second on services we can no longer afford,” Micciche said. “Every time you make one of those changes you affect a constituency. We have to be stronger and make tough decisions to bridge the economy until we have new sources of revenue.”
Treider said he is not happy with how education has been funded during the last few years. He said it is difficult to attract the best teachers with instability that disrupts school staffing decisions.
“Education is one area where we can’t compromise,” he said. “Children are our most important asset.”
While both candidates work in the oil industry, they have a different view on energy issues.
Treider said he would like to see Alaska transition to renewable energy and break the state’s dependence on oil.
Micciche said research in renewable energy has already taken place. He said new sources of energy like tidal generation is a great idea and their time would come. While oil makes up 92 percent of the state revenue, Micciche said natural gas is the future driver of the state economy and hopes gas lines will connect to all Alaskans to provide more affordable sources of heat and electricity.
“My goal is to transition from heavier hydrocarbons that are not as environmentally friendly to natural gas,” he said. “Natural gas would be a dramatic improvement away from diesel economy we have today.”
The Alaska LNG project and its proposed facility in Nikiski is an economy driver that could bring the benefits of improved infrastructure, more funding for schools and service areas, Micciche said.
While economic responsibility is an important point of emphasis for the state, Treider said the social issues like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide also need to be addressed.
“Whenever the oil and gas industry sneezes the legislature shows up with a convoy of trucks with Kleenex,” he said. “My concern, is the same level and commitment isn’t shown to Alaskans in general. We have a lot of quality of life issues we are dealing with now like crime fueled by drug abuse. Hardly anything has been done to facilitate drug treatment on a statewide level.”
Treider said he was disappointed by Gov. Sean Parnell’s decision not to expand Medicaid, a mistake that could cost lives, he said.
Micciche, however, said he believes the current governor and legislators are willing to work on long-term social issues affecting Alaskans. At some point lawmakers will need to discuss how to deal with the affordable care act, he said.
“I care about people and want to help get people’s lives turned around,” he said. “I’m also quite firm to defend the rights of the law abiding citizens before those that choose another path.”
When it comes to campaign spending, the two candidates have noticeably diverged.
According to his Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC, finance disclosure report, Micciche received more than $13,000 from Aug. 10 through Oct. 3. As of Oct. 14 his campaign had raised nearly $40,000.
Micciche received $1,000 from Alaska General Contractors, a PAC in Anchorage. He also received support from local residents including Robert Ruffner, Wayne Ogle and local politicians Mike and Tim Navarre.
Treider said he has limited his campaign donations to $100 increments because he has a problem with money from political action committees driving politics. According to APOC, Treider has collected more than $4,200 as of Oct. 3, including $100 from Talakai Finali, owner of AIC Contracting in Soldotna.
Micciche said the important thing to understand about APOC, is the donations are traceable to individuals and it is the responsibility of a candidate to monitor where the money comes from and only accept it from legitimate sources.
“The only thing people get out of contributing to my campaign is a better senator,” he said. “If people believe in you, they send you money because they know the cost of running a campaign and want you to be successful.”
Micciche said there are five aspects to being a legislator: Help citizens with state issues; keep constituents informed; create state operating and capital budget; evaluate existing legislation; and stop bad legislation.
“I am a pro-responsible development Republican that also demands clean water, healthy forest, critters and fish,” he said. “We can have both and I will continue my record of defending both natural resource development and quality of life issues.”
Treider said he is proud that he has been able to run a small campaign because he has stayed true to his ethics. If he won the election, he said he would quit his job and commit his time to meet the people’s needs.
“I will work diligently to get big money out of politics and do away with conflicts of interest,” he said. “People deserve a full time advocate in their senator. I want to be available to handle issues personally.”