Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories looking at area candidates for the Alaska Legislature.
Political newcomer Rocky Knudsen, a Democrat from Nikiski, is running against House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, for the District 29 House of Representatives seat.
Both names will appear on the ballot for the Aug. 19 Primary Election.
The Alaska Redistricting Board altered the boundaries for District 28, which Chenault currently represents, and renumbered it to District 29.
Chenault, 57, was first elected to the house in 2000.
“I ran (in 2000) simply because … I didn’t feel that Nikiski was getting good representation,” he said. “I was seeing things happening at the state level in Kenai, but I wasn’t seeing those same developments going on in North Kenai.”
Chenault said, like many other newly elected officials, he thought he would “change the world,” but found it’s a slow process.
“You just have to be persistent,” he said.
Chenault is vice-president of Qwick Construction Company and as a businessman, he said it was challenging to adjust to the deliberative process.
In 2009, Chenault became Speaker of the House.
“I try, in my position, to look at all the issues and try to make informed decisions that benefit my community and the constituents that live in it,” Chenault said. “And then I’ll look at the state issues and see how that parlays into particular pieces of legislation and that sways my opinion on how I vote.”
Without visiting communities throughout Alaska to learn about them, it’s difficult to make informed decisions on different pieces of legislation, he said.
“That’s why as Speaker, I’ve always been very open, to (legislators) especially, traveling around the state,” he said. “… What better way to learn than to get people out there and actually, one, see part of the state they represent and two, be introduced to different ways of life.”
Chenault said the citizens in his district are from “all walks of life” ranging from the oil and gas industry to education, two subjects Chenault said he feels very comfortable working to improve.
“I don’t concern myself with the things that folks want,” he said. “I concern myself more with the things that people need. We need good fire service areas, we need good schools, we need infrastructure to be able to move from one place to another.”
Presently, Chenault serves as the chair of the Committee on Committees and is a member of the Finance committee, the Labor & Commerce Committee, the Legislative Council and multiple Finance Subcommittees.
The biggest project Chenault said he has worked on during the last few years is the Alaska LNG Project.
If re-elected, Chenault hopes to continue to focus on oil and gas and education funding issues. But, he said, his No. 1 priority is trying to figure out a solution to the Upper Cook Inlet fish issues.
When he was 10 years old, Chenault’s family moved to Nikiski from New Mexico. He is married and has four children
“I want (my kids) to have the opportunities that I had in Alaska,” he said.
Retired construction and maintenance industry employee, Knudsen, 60, has lived in Nikiski since 1986. He has previously lived in Palmer and was born in Montana.
Kundsen said he decided to run because he cares about the people of the Kenai Peninsula.
“Another reason I decided to run is because it wouldn’t be an election if people didn’t have a choice,” he said.
With his experience in construction as a journeyman, supervisor and manager, Knudson said he understands the working people and their views on issues.
One of his priorities, if elected, is to make sure Alaskans are trained and hired in-state.
“When Alaskans are employed, money stays here,” he said. “And I like to see people have good jobs with good wages with benefits. When people make good money, they spend money, they buy things, they pay taxes and they build our economy.”
With Nikiski as the proposed site for the Alaska LNG Project liquefied natural gas plant, if the project comes to fruition, he would like to see many of those jobs and jobs related to the project done by Alaskans.
Through his career, Knudsen has worked on different oil and gas industry projects. And while it is an important aspect of Alaska’s economy, Knudsen would like to see other energy sources explored.
“I’m very interested in tidal energy, especially here on the Peninsula,” he said. “It seems like a perfect place for it, and I think that we need to look at that type of energy for our future. I think eventually it would make the energy cheaper for the people here.”
And it’s something that should be looked into now, he said, for the future.
Getting Alaskans good jobs requires them to be well-educated, Knudsen said. And while Knudsen thinks that elected officials need to spend more wisely, education is one area where funding needs to be sufficient.
“I think the school districts need adequate funding to provide so they can provide good education for our children,” he said. “I don’t think when they get into situations where they have to layoff teachers and things like that I think that takes away from the education.”
Knudsen said government transparency and increased public input are also things he would like to improve.
“Everybody has opinions,” he said. “They need to express their opinions and a lot of times you can learn things from people. You learn from everybody. People just need to express their opinions because sometimes they just have some really good ideas.”
Knudsen is married and has two grown children and volunteers at the Nikiski Senior Center.