Two of the three candidates running to represent most of the Southern Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska House of Representatives Zoomed into Soldotna on Monday to participate in a candidate forum ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Nonpartisan candidates Ginger Bryant and Louie Flora participated remotely in Monday’s forum, which was held at the Soldotna Public Library. Incumbent Republican Rep. Sarah Vance said she could not participate due to scheduling conflicts.
Following legislative redistricting prompted by the collection of the 2020 U.S. Census, State House District 6 includes most of the southern Kenai Peninsula. The district includes the communities of Cohoe and Kasilof in the north and Homer and Seldovia in the south. The district previously did not include Seldovia or Halibut Cove.
The forum was the seventh of nine forums being hosted by The Peninsula Clarion and KDLL 91.9 FM in partnership with the Central Peninsula League of Women Voters. Over the course of roughly an hour, candidates fielded questions from moderators Sabine Poux, news director at KDLL, and Ashlyn O’Hara, government and education reporter at The Peninsula Clarion.
Flora, who has lived in Homer since 1978, is a commercial fisherman and former staffer for the Alaska Legislature. Bryant, who has lived in Homer since 2003, is a conflict resolution practitioner with a focus in team building, community and community strengthening.
Vance has represented the southern Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska House of Representatives since 2019. She most recently served on the House Judiciary, Fisheries and State Affairs committees.
Both candidates attending said they oppose a constitutional convention, Bryant because she said changes to the state’s founding document could get out of control and Flora because Alaska allows for a “more narrow and concise process” through individual amendments.
“Right now, there has not been identified an overwhelming need to hold the convention,” Flora said. “I know there’s sentiment out there (and) a lot of items circulating that folks want to discuss. You know, I’m in support of constitutionalizing the permanent fund dividend but I think it needs to be handled through the far more narrow and concise process of the amendment process.”
When it comes to establishing a long-term fiscal plan for Alaska, Flora said lawmakers should revisit the recommendations of the state’s bipartisan working group, which was tasked with looking at the issue, such as using 50% of the permanent fund’s percent of market value for state services. Bryant said more investments in Alaska’s workforce are important, as is constitutionalizing the PFD.
“Right now too many of our resources are going Outside and until we have a workforce that is trained and ready and skilled to accept that, we will just be the gatekeepers to other people coming in,” Bryant said.
When asked whether they would support the implementation of a statewide income or sales tax to boost state revenue, Bryant said she thinks Alaska has enough money in the permanent fund and oil subsidies to run the state. Flora said he does not support the implementation of new taxes and said the state should reevaluate its petroleum tax structure.
“I think when we make our state services whole again, and we make our university whole and start growing that — grow our education system — to where it’s fully functional and not driving teachers out … we start building our economy that way,” Flora said. “That diversifies us.”
When it comes to securing Alaska’s energy security, Bryant said Alaska should follow the lead of states in the Lower 48 that have started divesting from oil. Flora, who serves on the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors, proposed reauthorizing Alaska’s renewable energy fund and pointed out that HEA and Gov. Mike Dunleavy have both proposed renewable goals.
Bryant and Flora diverged on what issue they would tackle if they could only sponsor one piece of legislation. Bryant said she’d back a “death with dignity” bill, while Flora described a new local government energy coordinator position that would operate within the Alaska Energy Authority.
Both candidates talked about improvements to education as being part of their vision for Alaska in the next five years. Flora said he wants to see Alaska reverse its outmigration and declining population, for more vocational education in schools and a better statewide fiscal outlook. Bryant urged steady funding for education institutions and a more robust workforce.
“I’d like to see education thriving to the best of its ability,” Bryant said.
Candidates were also asked about teacher retention and recruitment, where they think they fit in the broader legislative landscape and about times they’ve reached across the aisle to solve problems.
The full candidate forum can be streamed on KDLL 91.9 FM’s website at kdll.org or on The Peninsula Clarion’s Facebook page.
Election Day is Nov. 8 and early voting started Monday. On the central peninsula, early voting is available at Soldotna Prep School and the Kenai City Clerk’s Office. Both locations are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Voters will rank candidates for each seat. More information about the election can be found on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.