Paul Seaton, the Homer commercial fisherman who has represented Homer since first being elected in 2000, aims to take yet another try at the office. Known by his trademark Greek fisherman’s hat and a gray beard as bushy as the late Gov. Jay Hammond’s, he’s established a reputation as a moderate Republican willing to work across the aisle and even with Tea Party Republicans to pass bills. He’s also a strong advocate for the benefits of vitamin D and preventive health.
Seaton, 70, grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and moved to Alaska in 1975. He lived in Fairbanks, Seward and Anchor Point before settling in Homer in 1981. With his wife Tina, he has two grown children, Rand, a Homer Middle School teacher, and Tawny, living in Berkley, Calif., and the mother of the Seatons’ grandchild, Hazel. Seaton is a fish tender vessel owner who also runs apartment rentals.
His education includes an associate of arts from Ventura Community College, Ventura, Calif.; a bachelor of science and a masters of arts in teaching from the University of Alaska Fairbanks; a masters of science in marine zoology from San Diego State College, Calif., and a certificate in diesel mechanics from the Seward Skill Center (AVTEC).
In the past Legislature he served as chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee. Probably his biggest accomplishment was getting a grant to build a natural gas pipeline from Anchor Point to Homer — an attempt that took three tries to fund completely in 2012.
Questions for Paul Seaton:
1) What level of budget do you support and how would you balance that budget?
“The status quo without diversifying and expanding our revenues will lead us to a contraction of about 70 percent. …The minimum will be 50 percent in departments. Some will go away. You can’t take the vital services we give and not have a shell. People have to identify those functions of government they want to get rid of. … I don’t believe a gutted Alaska is what most people want to live in. That’s why I proposed House Bill 365. It combined two revenues sources to maintain the services that people want. …It is not honest to say cut the budget and not specify where you’re going to cut it.
We have cut 40 percent in the last three years. There’s been a lot of downsizing. The courts have a half day on Friday. … we’ve closed troopers stations were closing a correctional faculty in Palmer. We have discontinued many projects — Susitna, Watana, the Knik Arm crossing. …The CBR (Constitutional Budget Reserve) increased greatly when we had ACES. With progressivity when oil prices went high, state got higher percentage of profit. Progressivity is how we built up $17 billion. That’s why we’re currently able to go three years without finding without having any revenue. …The current legislature has a tremendous resistance to diversifying any revenue.
If you’re talking about reducing only the Permanent Fund Dividend, you have a segment in the community that’s lower income, rural, that’s impacted by a major extent more than those wealth. If you’re talking only about income tax, you’re talking about higher income people who are going to be more greatly impacted. If you combine the two of those, one regressive and one progressive, you can get more from everybody. The nice thing about the income tax is 20 percent of the jobs in Alaska are held by nonresidents. If you had a personal tax, LLC, S-corps would pay tax. …
(HB 365) proposed a balanced budget, maintains the CBR instead of wiping it out. It maintains about a $1,000 PFD, and had a cap of $1,200.
Instead of having 50 percent of the 5-year average, 25 percent went to dividends, 25 percent to the general fund. …Everyone should remember that we are the only state in the nation that does not have a state property tax, a state income tax or a state sales tax. We are the only one that’s reliant on a single industry to fund the entire government.”
2) Marijuana legalization. If elected, and if the Legislature considered it, would you vote to repeal the citizen initiative (2014’s Ballot Measure 2) that made marijuana legal for personal and medical use as well as commercial production and sale?
“No. … I’m the chair of Health and Social Services. We deal with the fall-out of the biggest drug problem we have in the state of Alaska, which is alcohol. Alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions to using violence. Definitely you have car accidents, but also just interpersonal relationships. …
My understanding of marijuana is it’s a relaxing venue so you don’t get aggressive. Any conversion from alcohol use to marijuana use would be a huge benefit to the social fabric of Alaska, whether it’s domestic violence, whether its’ child abuse, fights, all those kind of things… They just don’t happen with marijuana because the two drugs are acting so differently. …
If people are into modifying their behavior, they … although I encourage people not to do that and look at other things, whether it’s yoga, taking deep breaths, improving their vitamin D level. … If the choice is between chemical substances, I would much rather have people consume something that lowers the temperature of the conversations and the attitude and makes people less aggressive.”
3) Oil and gas industry. How can Alaska lessen its dependence on oil and gas tax revenues and expand its economy in other ways? What do you see as Alaska’s post-petroleum economy?
“There are two portions to oil and gas. One is the oil and gas tax, the other is expenditures, the credit system… I worked with other Republicans who had different views, negotiated with the minority, which has a more tax view. We were able to come up with a bill that didn’t increase the taxes but took care of the credits both in Cook Inlet and on the Slope. …The production tax was supposed to generate money and a portion to go toward accelerating development. Now we have a case where the credits are fully eating more and all of the production tax. …One way to lessen our dependence on the tax is lowering our expenses to the industry. When we have high expenses we are giving out to the industry, you definitely need revenue to pay those. We need to get rid of most of that credit systems in order to stabilize our economy so there’s at least some money coming for production tax. …There are less than 1,000 full time oil and gas jobs on the Kenai Peninsula. In fiscal year 2015, the state paid $404 million in non North Slope, Cook Inlet tax credits, with zero production tax. … $404,000 the state paid to oil and gas companies in Cook Inlet to support those 1,000 jobs. …Diversifying revenue means we’re going to have to do what the other 49 states did and say we’re going to have to have a broad-based tax of some kind. …. We’re going to lose population and jobs without a broad based tax. …A post-petroleum economy looks like the economy of every other state. Every other state except for a handful have no petro economy. But they have an economy but it’s very diversified. …It’s not very satisfying to have somebody saying we should diversify the economy or diversify revenue and not have some sort of solution. That’s the problem. Words don’t pay the bills. You have to come out with some solution that can be implemented.”
4) Do you think it is best for Republicans to decide issues in caucus and present a united front in legislature, or do you think they should act foremost in the interest of their district? How would you work within your party and at the same time represent the interest of the district?
“I’ve worked for open meetings throughout my tenure in the legislature. I don’t think a decision should be made in secret meetings. I think that a legislature needs to represent the diversity of their constituents as well as the broad interest of the state. …I’m definitely not thinking the interest of the Kenai Peninsula would be served by rubber stamping what a small group decides behind closed doors. I don’t know how they would decide anyway. It’s illegal to vote in a caucus, a closed meeting. …We are obligated to do two things in the majority. On the end of the day on the budget, you’ve made all the amendments, we agree to vote on the budget as we move it to finance committee in the end. … That’s necessary, otherwise the minority would put up amendments that would be calculated to put individual members of a caucus in a bind. …You agree to uphold the chair on procedural motions. If you don’t have that, you don’t have any way to protect an agenda or a policy, a policy direction. …
I know my opponent is saying it should all be done in secret in a caucus and everybody should walk lock stock, but the only way you make a decision is by voting. But if you’re voting, that’s an ethics violations.”
5) What big opportunities is Alaska missing?
“We are missing the opportunity of drastically lowering the cost of health care by initiating prevention across the state, because we know that with a number of nutritional changes for Alaskans we could be avoid 50 percent of our illnesses. ….I think the farm to market and sea to market programs are starting to go. I’m sure glad that nonprofits are driving that, but anything we can help would be a benefit. …We found land available that would be good agriculture land in the school trust. Nobody is putting up for sale. DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has to survey land, but didn’t get reimbursed. We should be getting a policy change so we can get compensated for the sale of land from survey and development costs.”
6) If Alaska could get a do-over and change anything in its history or how it acted, what would that be?
“One thing like Jay Hammond said, we should never have gotten rid of the income tax. We could have reduced it. We could have put it away in a Permanent Fund like Norway did. …
The thing is, it disconnected people from their government because they’re not paying for anything. …It’s so much better when people say, you’re using my tax dollars wrong. Which tax dollars are you talking about? That would have been something that changed the complexion of where we are now. …We wouldn’t have been eating through our seed corn the way we are.”
7): Do you support Donald Trump, who is now the Republican Party’s presidential candidate?
“I’m going to be watching the debates very closely. I’m not particularly happy with my choices. …It’s having confidence that you know where you think you know where they’re gong. I don’t have that confidence I know where either one is going.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.