Kelly Wolf, a construction worker and former Kenai Peninsula legislator, spoke to the Clarion about his candidacy for the District 30 spot.
What would be your priorities as a legislator if elected?
Well, No. 1 is we need to address our spending level. Without question, we need to get our spending level into an area that we can actually afford. Last year, the general fund amount was approximately $4.9 billion and this year it was $5.5 billion. And then federal spending for federal monies is on top of that. That’s our general fund level that we’re spending currently, and we can’t sustain that.
What would you do to address those budget concerns?
Well I think, No. 1, you know, as a former legislator, I understand the budget process. We need to have a good hard look on the University of Alaska. It was established as a university land grant. … We cannot continue to fund the University of Alaska when they were given land at statehood to you know, develop and use as revenue to the tune of almost $800 million. It’s not sustainable. In fact, University of Alaska Anchorage, of course, one of the programs is not even accredited.
We need to have a hard look at our marine highway system and revamp it, which I know the governor and the board he appointed is doing so right now. So, those are just two areas right on the top of my head. We need to start rolling in our spending. When I was in the Legislature in ‘03, legislative salaries were just over $24,000. Now we’re at $50,000-plus for salary. We all need to feel the pain. Let the Legislature feel it first. I know that’s not going to make the 60 individuals in the Legislature happy, but, you know, we have to get our spending in check. One way that I believe is a possible means, and I believe the people of the State of Alaska need to be brought in on this. I know some people think well, we send you down to Juneau to represent us and our best interests, you know, you need to make these decisions. Well, the corpus of the permanent fund is enshrined in the Constitution. It can’t be touched unless there is a vote of the people by a constitutional amendment. Twenty one years ago or thereabouts, Sen. Mackey introduced what was called “Mackey dollars,” and it was to reduce the permanent fund dividend and cash it out. I think that plan should be dusted off and revised. To cash out, I think it needs to be talked about.
So you’re talking about dipping into the corpus of the permanent fund to pay for the PFD?
No, I’m talking about cashing half the permanent fund dividend out to eligible Alaskans, a one-time payment. And the other remaining $32 billion plus remains in the corpus of the fund to fund the state government through the POMV plan at 5%. It would require a three-quarter majority in the House and the Senate, and then it would go to a vote of the people. Only way I would endorse that, and the only way I would support it, is if, in that vote is a constitutional spending cap where the government cannot spend more revenue than they take in.
A constitutional spending cap is something that the governor has been pushing for since he got into office.
I know. I understand that. And that’s where that idea comes from. I saw outlandish spending when I was in the Legislature in ‘03 and ‘04. And there was no — even though we were in a tight budget situation in the first half of Murkowski’s term, you know — there was no backbone to make cuts. They pushed POMV in ‘04, and I’m the legislator that stood up and said, ‘Hell no, I won’t go,’ and defied the governor’s call and killed the POMV vote. There was a parliamentary rule process that wouldn’t allow business to take place on the floor if not all legislators were there and present and in a seat. So, you know, if you want to call it, it was a political suicide, because I chose not to run. And I announced that, you know, to prevent Murkowski from vetoing everything off the Kenai Peninsula because of my defiance, but I knew that had I shown up, there was enough votes at least in the House to pass a POMV in ‘04. Looking throughout history from ‘04 to today, our budget would be three times where it was or at least twice, because they have spent everything they got when we were at $140 for a barrel of oil. The budget would have just been blown up.
Why do you feel that you’re the best candidate to represent the Republicans in District 30?
Well, I have the experience. I understand the process of reaching across the aisle and working with my fellow legislators to get things done. One person can’t do much. Yes, you can help constituents in dealing with issues with their PFD and, you know, child support enforcement and child protective services and things like that with state agencies. But to move legislation along, one person is not a mountain. They have to be able to work other fellow legislators to get a piece of legislation introduced and to get it through both Houses. Judging from my experience and watching what’s been going through the process over the last four years, especially these last two, this last session, there are individuals down there that want to do something. And they see that we have to, but they’re a little afraid, they don’t have backbone to stand up. I call it trailblazing, you know, because I’ve worked with Youth Restoration Corps for the last 20 years building trails, and I call it trailblazing. You have to have somebody that is willing to take the arrows, the bullets, the rocks, the sticks that are thrown at you. Some people are just afraid to step out, and they know they’re going to get beat up by special interests and the lobbyists and the unions, and they want to stay in politics. I’ve never been interested in being a career politician. When I get irritated at government, I roll up my sleeves and jump in to try to do something to better my community.
Fishing, oil and gas and tourism are all important industries on the peninsula, and all three sectors have been hit hard by the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Have you thought about what you would do as a legislator to address these impacts and help the local economy rebound?
Well, No. 1, I’m a ‘no’ vote on Alaska’s Fair Share. I’m an absolute ‘no’ vote because this is the wrong time to be taxing one of our legs in the economic stool. The pandemic situation has nearly crushed our tourism industry. Our guides are hurting, our bed and breakfasts are hurting, local businesses are hurting because the tourism is not here.
And then the lack of fish in Cook Inlet, the prices, the Board of Fish process that has developed over the years, it’s a fish war. We didn’t have a return, so this winter is going to be lean and we have to address all those. And when I say ‘we’, I’m not talking about commercial fishermen or guides specifically. We as a community have to address it. We need to start looking at our high-seas interception.
When I served in the Legislature before, I chased down the by-catch and found that the Lacey Act had been, in several different cases, violated. That by-catch was being sold on the market. And you know, was blatantly told ‘shut up and don’t chase that apple.’ The industry didn’t want to go down that road because they were afraid. So, you know, they’re my constituents, I’m there to represent them, and I feel very strongly about that.
So we have to roll up our sleeves and get into the nuts and bolts of this. I don’t have an answer how to assist the tourism industry and the commercial fishing industry right now because we don’t have any money. We’re broke. We’re in a fiscal crisis with the state of Alaska. But I believe giving people the opportunity to vote on the constitutional spending cap and the cashing out of the permanent fund is a way of bridging that gap.
When I say that, you would take $32 billion plus and divide it between every eligible Alaskan. That is approximately $47,000 minus your federal income tax. … Think about the economic stimulus that anywhere between $42,000 and $35,000, maybe $33,000, what that would do for individuals across the state of Alaska and their local communities.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is a prime example. The city of Kenai collects 3% (sales tax) and the borough collects 3%. Every item that is purchased in the city of Kenai, there’s a 6% sales tax with a cap of $500. So that’s economic stimulus to the city of Kenai and/or the schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. So, you know, that would help. It’s a one-time payment, and then we take that thousand-pound gorilla out of the room.
You already said you will be voting ‘no’ on the upcoming ballot measure to raise taxes on the oil and gas industry. Do you think the tax structure for that industry should be changed at all?
At this point in time, we don’t touch. Because it’s not the climate when the price of oil is where it’s at and we have no idea what’s going to happen. We’ve got less than half a million barrels of oil going down the pipeline. Its capacity is 2 million. It’s not the time to raise taxes on the oil industry.
What about the second ballot initiative, that would change the structure of Alaska’s elections by opening up the primaries and introducing ranked-choice voting?
I’m a ‘no’ vote on that as well. I support the referendum, and a big shoutout to Norm Blakeley for pushing the referendum to get it on the ballot to, you know, stop vote by mail. I voted against that when I was on the borough assembly. I railed against it. I’m sorry, there’s way too much possibility of fraud and vote by mail and I do not support the ballot initiative number two.
Ballot initiative 2 doesn’t have anything to do with vote-by-mail.
I understand that. The issue with ballot two is, I just have a real problem with outside groups, you know, entering into Alaska elections. We haven’t had a problem with this the way it is. Most of my, looking at my APOC report, my campaigns over the years have been primarily funded by myself.
Yes, I understand that there’s some big money from lobbyists and union groups going into campaigns across the state. You know, I’ve been beat up a little bit because I ran for lieutenant governor many years back against Dan Sullivan and I thought he needed a placeholder. So I talked to my wife and I asked her if I could spend $400 of our money, and I put my name on the ballot, and I ran.
I didn’t do any campaigning, didn’t fundraise, didn’t do anything, and the Republican Party was absolutely blown out of the water, myself included, that I took 31,000 votes. Didn’t campaign, didn’t do anything, and even Dan Sullivan, mayor of Anchorage, asked me “How’d you manage that?”
And I said, ‘Either 31,000 people thought that the last name Wolf was cool, or they really didn’t like you, Dan.’ I just felt he needed a placeholder. And when I first ran in 2002, I was a bull in a china cabinet, you know, and I wasn’t trying to win. I’ve never dabbled in politics, wasn’t interested. I was sick and tired of getting beat up by a state agency for a program that I helped , so I thought it was a great idea to get that agency off our back and to allow us to work with kids out in the woods doing bank restoration, and it worked. But I got elected and had to spend two years getting what I call my ‘PhD in politics.’ And it was a pretty wide-opening experience for me. Ted Stevens, in the general election, actually put his faith behind me and endorsed me in the general election of 2002. And I was honored to received that endorsement.
Would you like to leave the readers with any closing remarks?
Well, I would just like to say that, given the turn of events on the 31st of July, that my prayers and my heart goes out to Helen Knopp and Gary’s family. Gary and I were friends at the coffee table. Even though I ran unsuccessful elections against Gary, Gary and I remained friends at the coffee table, and I could talk to him. And I would ask that the voters of District 30 get out and vote on Aug. 18. That is probably the biggest statement. We have to engage our political officials, and we have to vote. It is, in my opinion, a duty of every registered voter in the state.
Wolf’s Facebook page is Kelly Wolf for State House.
Early voting for the primary election is taking place now. The primary will be held next Tuesday, Aug. 18.
Alaskans can find more information about voting, including registration status, polling locations and how to vote early at elections.alaska.gov.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at email@example.com.