Ron Gillham, a local business owner and heavy equipment operator who has lived in Soldotna since 1986, spoke to the Clarion about his candidacy for the District 30 spot.
What would be your priorities as a legislator if elected?
Well, I guess the first thing would be to get rid of the binding caucus. We’ve got 60 legislators and there’s only about a handful that are able to do anything. And you have people in right now with a different mindset. They think that the (permanent fund) dividend can be used for government purposes, and they don’t have the political will to make any kind of budget cuts. So that binding caucus needs to go away so that everybody has a voice, and right now we have two or three hundred thousand people that don’t have a voice.
Another one is going to be the budget. We need to get the budget back to where it’s sustainable. … There’s going to be some very unpopular decisions that have to get made, so that deficit is going to affect every Alaskan. Getting the budget back in line is going to be one of the very major issues down in Juneau.
What would you do to address Alaska’s budget concerns?
There’s a few different things to look at. One of them is our schools, unfortunately. We have three college campuses and the graduation rate of UAA is 28.8%. The national rate is 60%, and at private colleges 66%. Fifty four percent of all of the funding that comes into our colleges goes into administration. They’re just top-heavy on administration. We have three campuses; it needs to be consolidated into one. And it’s gonna be administration that probably ends up losing a job, but you know, we just can’t keep paying something and not getting any results. Same thing can be said for the K through 12, where 50% of the revenue goes into administration. We have 56 school districts and we need to consolidate that down to around 15. There again, you know, not teachers, it’s gotta be administration. The teachers are good teachers. But we’re just way top-heavy on administration.
Why do you feel you’re the best candidate to represent the Republican Party in District 30?
Well, I believe I can work with people a whole lot easier. I’m not going to try and bully my way through something. I think about things before I do it. So as far as being the best candidate: I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to walk away and leave something unattended or unfinished. I’m not going to lie about something; I’ll tell you how things are. And there will be some people that don’t like it, just like talking about the schools. That is a major concern, the funding of our colleges, and we’re not getting the return that we should be. I’ve been in business most of my life, so I’m used to making decisions that are really not very popular but that needs to be done. I’m not gonna go along to get along.
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?
Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fishing and the tourism. The kings (salmon) in the Kenai River, that is a major, major part of our economy. And because of some of the wording in the laws, we can’t do anything to help the kings. So the numbers keep going down, the commercial fisheries take a hit, the sport fishermen take a hit, and in turn our local businesses take a hit. I believe I have a way to bring those fish back by changing some wording, and then everybody wins. Right now, you’ve got sport fishing fighting commercial, commercial fighting sporting, but I believe that there is a way to bring these fish back. And that is a major concern for me.
Could you go into more detail on your plan regarding king salmon?
The way it’s worded (in the management plan), it’s looked at as a hatchery. And that’s not the case, it’s not a hatchery. And when you talk to Fish and Game about it, they say they will have to hire one biologist and one Fish and Game person to watch these areas. And that’s not the case, if we go to colleges and get some of the kids that are studying biology, you know, they can help out.
So you’d like to see more biologists for Fish and Game working that fishery?
No, you really wouldn’t have to have biologists. Like I said, you’ve got young people in college that they could help out, they could earn credits, and they could help do what needs to be done. And like I said, I believe we can bring these kings back. And in that case, the commercial guys are not gonna get shut down because they’re catching kings, the sport fishermen aren’t gonna get shut down because they’re taking kings, so to me, it looks like a win-win situation.
How do you feel about ballot initiative 1, which would raise taxes on the oil and gas industry? And do you feel that the current tax structure for that industry should be changed at all by the Legislature?
I don’t believe what they’re doing is right, and I’m not gonna vote ‘yes’ on Prop 1. But I do believe that they need a stable tax structure. To have the tax structure changed eight times in 12 years, I don’t understand how a business can do business like that. You don’t know from one year to the next what your tax rate is going to be. So, the oil industry needs a stable tax base.
What about ballot initiative 2, which would change the structure of Alaska’s elections by opening up the primaries and introducing ranked-choice voting?
I’m not really for that. I think we have three parties basically: Independent, Republican and Democrat. I think that each one of them should be able to put forth the person they think is best. And you start doing the ranked voting, it’s confusing enough as it is. And you start doing that and it’s really going to get confusing. So I think that’s going to hurt a lot, and I don’t think that should pass.
Would you like to leave the readers with any closing remarks?
Like I said, one of my major concerns is the river. That’s the one thing I’m going to be looking real hard at. The river to me is life, for our community, for our whole peninsula. If the river goes away, our community goes away. And I think the idea that I have will help everybody, not just one user group.
Gillham’s website is www.gillham4house.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.