Nov. 2, 2004 Election Forum

Focus on U.S. Senate, and State House /Senate Races

The News sent email questions to all candidates in these races. Here are the answers from those who responded.

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U.S. Senate
Tony Knowles (D) vs. Lisa Murkowski (R)
1) In a municipal election that saw a record turnout this October, Skagway voters by a 62-38 percentage preferred improved ferry service rather than a road to Juneau for improving access to the capital city. Will this result change your position on the road? If elected, and the Legislature or Congress is asked to fund the Juneau-Skagway road proposed by the Murkowski Administration, how will you vote?
KNOWLES: As a U.S. Senator, my job will be to maximize federal funding for transportation projects in Alaska and will leave it to state and local officials to prioritize projects based on their needs and available funding. As Governor, I was a strong supporter of the Alaska Marine Highway System and my administration developed the Southeast regional transportation plan that included stationing two new fast ferries to improve service for Southeast Alaska.
MURKOWSKI: The views of those who will be affected by a road to Juneau must be taken into account. I want to help improve the local transportation infrastructure, whether by better ferry service or by road. Which route to take is a decision that must be made by the communities in the area, the State Legislature and the Governor.

2) If the intelligence reports on Iraq had been accurate, showing no weapons of mass destruction, would you have still supported going in and toppling Saddam? What evidence will you personally require from the president to make any future decisions on whether to go to war?
KNOWLES: As a veteran, I support the efforts, success and safety of our troops in Iraq and around the world. I support the use of pre-emptive force when there is an imminent threat to our country. Based on the information that was presented at the time I would have supported the decision to invade Iraq. We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but an imminent threat to our country remains from Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Our forces and resources would have been better spent by going after those that carried out 9/11 and other terrorist attacks around the world.
MURKOWSKI: The decision to go to war was based on the best intelligence available to the United States and other nations at the time. The fact of the matter is that the world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power and Iraq is no longer a safe harbor for terrorists. Despite wanting the U.N. sanctions lifted, which would likely have occurred if Saddam had disclosed the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction programs, Saddam instead chose to make the rest of the world believe he had these weapons, pressured other nations to lift the sanctions through bribes, and retained the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction in the future. For future decisions on war, I would need to be shown strong evidence that the security of the United States is in danger and prompt military action is needed.

3) The gasline may be closer to reality, but record gas prices are digging into the pockets of many Alaskans. What can be done on a federal level to arrest a situation that is causing many Americans to pay more for gas than what they received in tax breaks last year?
KNOWLES: America needs a comprehensive energy plan that addresses both increasing domestic energy supply and encouraging conservation. The current Congress failed to pass an energy bill that did either. Negotiated in secret, the bill was so laden with pork, it collapsed under its own weight. Alaskans suffering from high energy costs would have been better served by a real energy bill that boosts production and provides incentives to conserve.
MURKOWSKI: Greater domestic production in places such as ANWR will reduce our dependence on unstable sources of foreign oil and calm speculation on oil prices which is driving the current price hike. We need to also increase domestic refinement capacity and have more standardized blends of gasoline. Our oil refineries are currently operating at full capacity. More refinery capacity will allow more oil to be processed into gasoline. Our refineries are also required to produce so many different blends of gasoline across the nation, as regulations differ from county to county, that one county could have plenty of gas while the next county over faces shortages because it requires a different blend. Fewer boutique blends will allow our refineries to provide more product to the consumer in an uninterrupted manner, lowering prices and speculation on prices.
4) List your top priorities for Alaska.
KNOWLES: My top priorities are to create good jobs by building the gas pipeline, opening ANWR to responsible development, and to stop outsourcing jobs overseas; return local control of our schools by reforming or repealing the federal “No Child Left Behind” law; help make health care more accessible and affordable to all Americans; ensure a strong national defense and keep our promise to our vets; and protect all of our personal freedoms including our second amendment right to bear arms, and a woman’s right to choose.
MURKOWSKI: Now that we have been able to obtain the federal incentives needed for the gas pipeline, my next highest priorities are: 1. Job growth in Alaska; 2. ANWR; 3. Land transfer acceleration to give Alaska and Alaska's Natives what we were promised at statehood; 4. Improve education opportunities.

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State House District 5
Tim June (D) vs. Bill Thomas (R)
1) Same question as above on road.
JUNE: Against the road.
THOMAS: I told them I favored the road. Then they had their election. I’m more concerned about access to the capital. I think we need to protect Juneau. I have to respect Skagway’s vote for now, but one has to remember that the tide changes. I don’t think they’ve got the money to build anything anyway. Right now, I support improved ferry service but wish they would get the schedule right. If I’m elected it’s a lot better than having someone in the minority in there. I can live with either one. We have these ferries, let’s use them. Listen more to the locals. Not sure what one vote can do among 60, but everyone will tell me what to do.

2) Much has been said this election season about the ability of a candidate to convey his/her message to the party in power or the ruling caucus and get things done. In Alaska, many caucuses are held behind closed doors. Will you seek to open up these caucus meetings so the public can hear what you have to say?
JUNE: Yes. Legislature should be held to the same high standard as local assemblies/councils.
THOMAS: I’ve been down here long enough to see state politics. Interesting that this didn’t change until they (Democrats) were no longer in the majority. They’ve spent billions and billions behind closed doors in the past. If it worked good for them, why can’t it work now with this majority in power. I’ve never been behind a closed door caucus so I don’t know what they talk about. Maybe football scores.

3) State your solution to the present fiscal gap. Is an income tax on the horizon next session?
JUNE: Adjust the oil tax structure. We have a tax gap, not a fiscal gap.
THOMAS: Actually there is no fiscal gap this year, there’s something like a $200 million surplus. I believe we have to look at all taxes. I’m against a state sales tax, but, and I’ve been misquoted about this, I’m for an income tax only if all other solutions fail. If the CBR (Consititutional Budget Reserve) gets down to like $1.5 million, somewhere in that neighborhood, then possibly could support a broad-based tax. But don’t target one industry. My solution, list all taxes on the board, figure out how much you need, then go at it that way. Economic development is a good solution at the local level to meet needs. Kensington mine, timber sales, etc.

4) List your top priorities for Alaska:
JUNE: 1) Work for fair taxes on oil and minerals; 2) Adequately fund education and eliminate the 60% clause in SB 36 that punishes rural students; 3) Reinstate seniors' Longevity Bonus; 4) Bring Habitat Division back to ADF; 5) Prohibit aerial herbicide spraying.
THOMAS: 1) No mandatory boroughs, no school consolidation, no broad-based sales tax. 2) Support funding long-term education with a POMV (Percent Of Market Value) specifically for education voted on by the people, same for school maintenance, and Municipal Revenue Sharing. Eliminates tax need at the local level. POMV from before was too broad, need to be very specific with a vote of people. 3) Maintain and improve our Marine Highway system; 4) Complete the intertie; 5) Put more state money back in seafood marketing and tourism.

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State Senate District C
Albert Kookesh (D) vs. Carl Morgan (R)
1) Same question as above on road.
KOOKESH: I will do whatever Haines and Skagway want me to do on the road. Because I live in Angoon, not directly impacted by the road to Skagway and Haines, I want to take my direction from residents in those communities. It is good to see a vote in Skagway that shows a margin of preference. If there were a vote today on the road to Skagway I would vote No based on the recent election in Skagway.
MORGAN: I do hear a lot of comment from the Interior that it is so expensive to come down to Juneau and the access is limited. I’ll have to look at the bigger scope. The road may or may not affect Skagway negatively. I think in the long run it’s going to help Skagway because it’s going to draw people with another way to come down. The other thing is I think you’re going to see another push for the capital move, and I think that’s wrong. The capital should stay in Juneau. I would have to think about what’s good for the state, as a whole. The biggest complaint we hear about is accessibility.

2) Same question as above on caucuses.
KOOKESH: I do not support closed caucuses in the Legislature and I never have. In fact, the Democratic Minority does not allow closed caucuses; in fact, the public and the press are always welcome. While the Republican Majority denies doing any votes behind closed doors, I tend to disbelieve that based on their actions on the floor as a caucus. We need to enforce the current law that requires open caucuses.
MORGAN: I think some caucuses should be done behind closed doors and some should be open to the public. You look at the federal government. I think that’s where the word “caucus” came from. I think part of the institution is caucuses. I know the public doesn’t like it, but contrary to popular belief, no decisions are made. There’s no voting. I think it can work both ways. Yes, some should be open and some should be closed.

3) Same question on fiscal gap/taxes.
KOOKESH: There is no fiscal gap. The oil is at 50 plus dollars a gallon. There is today a surplus of money in the general fund. HOWEVER, I believe that we need a fiscal plan for Alaska and the time to adopt one is when we are not in a crisis mode – today. The oil prices will eventually drop and we must plan for that. That's why it is important to come up with a fiscal plan now. In order to have a fiscal plan for Alaska everything has to be on the table – for discussion – which would include an income tax, statewide sales tax, cruise ship head tax, education head tax, consideration of the ELF as well as oil taxes.
MORGAN: I think we can’t lose the focus of a long range fiscal plan. All our eggs are in one basket. They’re all in oil, and when oil gets a bad cold we feel it. I think there are other solutions. One is the ELF (Economic Limit Factor - regulating what oil companies pay into the treasury), and I say yes, I’m in favor of looking at ELF, very cautiously, and with the major parties involved. I think we should look at other revenue-based stuff, like mining. We haven’t done anything with mining in a long time. In my district you have the Pogo Mine and others, not only with royalties but putting people to work. We also should look at timber. A balanced budget also has to put people to work. I think income tax could be part of the pie, but in my view it would be the last thing. I am against a state sales tax.

4) List your top priorities for Alaska:
KOOKESH: 1) Education funding for the formula; 2) PCE needs to be fully funded – so that we can add schools, businesses, and clinics back into the formula. 3) The Alaska Marine Highway needs to be be fully funded including money for new ferries to replace the older ones; 4) Public safety protection for all communities in Alaska – it is a constitutional requirement that we must meet. The VPSO program is a good example in rural communities. 5) We need to fully fund preventative programs such as alcohol prevention and drug prevention; FAS, FAE.
MORGAN: 1) Like everyone else, the top is fully funding education, keeping up with inflation, and helping our children; 2) Look at other natural resources to extract, expanding fishing and timber; 3) Lowering energy costs throughout the state, it keeps holding back the economy; 4) Preserve the PCE (Power Cost Equalization) program, which ties into the cost of energy; and 5) Subsistence.