2010 General Election Forum

Early this month, The Skagway News sent a list of questions to the major candidates running for office in the Nov. 2 General Election. The questions appear below. Candidates for statewide races submitted their answers via email. The answers are divided by races, but not everyone submitted their answers by our deadline. State House candidates were interviewed in person or via telephone, and were asked an additional sixth question about Ballot Measure 1, in which voters will decide if they support an increase in the size of the Legislature by four seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.

Questions for Candidates

1. What special qualities would you bring to the office you are seeking?

2. School funding was a huge issue in the community this past year. What makes you the better “education candidate” in this race?

3. Skagway is seeking federal and state funding for a major expansion of port facilities and possibly an upgrade of the rail line to handle large volumes of mineral exports from the Yukon again. Will you support government funding or loans to help make this happen?

4. Upgraded Lynn Canal ferry service or a road link from Juneau to Katzehin? Where will you stand on Juneau Access, once the road issue is resolved in the courts?

5. Briefly state your top 3 priorities for the State of Alaska.

6. (House District 5 candidates only) Do you support Ballot Initiative No. 1 to increase the size of the legislature. Is the measure’s passage critical to keeping this House seat?

House District 5
Robert Beedle (D-Cordova) is challenging incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines)

Robert Beedle (D)
Age: 52
Occupation: Fisherman
Education: Two years UAF, refrigeration trade school.
Years in Alaska: 52 - Cordova resident
Public offices held: Cordova City Council, Cordova Telephone Co-op, PWSAC

 1. I’m born and raised in Alaska. I’ve raised my family here. These issues are my issues. I want to represent the people, not corporations or corporate lobbyists teaming in Juneau. I just want to represent people. I want to be their voice in Juneau. I have some background in Alaska fisheries. I have positions on the ferries and the high cost of energy. But there’s a lot I don’t know and I need to hear it from the people. I want to be the voice of the people in Juneau, not some lobbyists. The biggest thing is give the people a voice in Juneau…. There’s a lot of similarities between Bill and me. But he was a lobbyist for years. There’s still tons of corporate lobbyists in there, and the people don’t have the voice. The issues aren’t being decided by the people.

2. School funding is a huge issue in all the communities of this district. Everywhere I went it’s he same. I’ve got a huge investment in it. I’m a product of the education system, my kids are, and it’s our future. If our kids aren’t educated, what is our future? I’m for education. I love it. It makes a big decision on whether people stay here, and it is a vital part of our communities. I’d like to see something changed where it is not a one size fits all. We have smaller communities and we can’t fit the same model as with larger cities with thousands of kids in school. I’d like to see some graduated stair-step or some other formula that allows for the smaller communities to get more funding. On the scale of economies, if you build a gym for a thousand students the cost is cheap, but you still need a gym for a school that might have 100 students. You still need a level of education, part of it is sports and other academic activities. You can’t just sit down and read a book – it needs to be well rounded. I’d also like to support the idea of different trade schools in our communities. It doesn’t have to be something specific for the region like logging. You can teach web design, mechanics, some of basic trades, plumbing, electrical, heating. We need to give our kids a chance.

3. Yes. What an opportunity. You have an industry in the Yukon, and it’s not going to affect the fisheries or tourism in the region. It might even help it. Jobs. All I can think of is yes.

4. Right now one consistent theme in the district is the ferry service and it is something we can work on right now. It’s up to the courts on the road, so that means it is out of all our hands. I’d really like to see ferry service improved. We’re talking about building some Alaska class ferries. I’d like to see them built in Alaska. I’d like to see the economy stay here, the dollars circulate in Alaska. There’s a huge potential for spinoff. It’s something we can do now and get started on. If the road does happen, that’s great. But our road right now isn’t painted black, it is painted blue and it is something we can do now.

5. Legislative leadership on high utility and heating costs. Regular, reliable and affordable marine highway system. Science-based fisheries management. The high cost of utilities bleeds into alternative energy. There’s lot of stuff out there, shipping raw product out, value-added. Where hydro works, do them. Wind. There’s a lot of this stuff out there already. Let’s get started. Let’s not wait till oil runs out, and say ‘Oh no!” The ferry system is the highway for the whole south coast of Alaska, from Metlakatla out to Dutch Harbor. We have the potential to build ships here and keep the money in Alaska. Event though it might cost more up front, there are spinoff jobs to support the schools and tourism…..We need a regular, reliable and affordable marine highway system. Fish and Game needs to be funded to keep baseline research done, explore potential for new fisheries, just keep the health of our fisheries up. Fisheries are our state’s original permanent fund; we need to manage it well. Every year we get to make a withdrawal. If we don’t manage it well, we all suffer.

6. It does scare me. I don’t know. I haven’t delved into it. What does it mean to have more. Do we keep what we have or does Wasilla get another one. Does it mean if we don’t have more, do we get absorbed into another area. It doesn’t spell it out in the proposal. We get four more seats. I need to do more work on it, to be honest…. We all need representation. We are rural and we are losing jobs. People are moving out. We need these jobs, we need the ferries and port systems to have our population to keep our representation. It’s amazing how it is all inter-tied.

William A. “Bill” Thomas Jr. (R)
Age: 63
Occupation: Fisherman
Education: Haines High, UAF.
Years in Alaska: 63, resident of Haines
Public offices held: State House 3 te
rms, Haines Borough Assembly and School Board, Alaska Board of Forestry, Alaska Timber Task Force.

 1. I bring six years seniority, and six years experience as a legislator. I’ve been four years on Finance. I do the DOT, Fish and Game and Admin. budgets. I’ve been very, very busy in Finance. I spent two years in Community and Regional Affairs, Veterans Affairs and Fisheries. Prior I was a lobbyist for regional and village corporation, and one client was for an oil refinery.…I stand on my record for improvements to Alaska Marine Highway and road systems, everything. My radio spot says if you are not sure what I did, go and call you mayors and assembly members. People are happy everywhere I’ve been. I stick to the issues.

2. It all comes down to what communities can do for economic development to improve their economies so they can attract more people. I don’t think we can change the foundation formula. They’ve done that twice in 30 years. It’s not very easy to do, so better off to see what we can do it at the local level first. I think Skagway is headed the right way with the new dock they’re looking at. All our districts are losing population and student count, and that means if you increase the formula, you get more money into it, but it goes to communities that have been successful. Were not the only ones. It will take more than just us in SE to figure out how we get more money into our schools. It will take working with school districts and association of school boards. I don’t think throwing more money into the formula gets it. We’ve made the cost differential for communities and that doesn’t seem to have helped anybody.

3. Yes. And I have been. I’ve been helping with their efforts already. I don’t know how much we can do, but we keep writing letters of support. We’ve sent a couple so far.

4. I told the governor I support the west side opening because you have a ferry terminal already built in Juneau, and you can run the ferries to St. James Bay – open up state, federal and Haines Borough land and go up that shoreline. It would be an engineer’s dream to go up the other (east) side. But I’ve fished there for 41 years and I look at the other shoreline, and I think it’s more accessible the other (west) way. You have build the ferry anyway. Hopefully by then we’ll have a dedicated ferry for Haines and Skagway, or one built, but we have to work on that again. We put money in the fund but have to figure out which ship. I think if we retired one of the big ones, we can always put it between Haines and Skagway. It was a great trip before but they took it out of there.

5. Economic development with the gas line and oil royalties, cheap energy, and always education. Getting our royalties back and keeping them up there. Getting the gas pipeline built is a biggie for Haines and Skagway. It could be a double whammy for us – four years of construction and we get the impacts and the state gets the royalty rates. I always support forward funding of education.

6. Yes to the second part. To the measure, which I co-sponsored, when we calculated the numbers, it was close enough within the 10 percent of people in the count that we should be able to maintain the regions we have in Southeast. We might have to slide one way or the other. But we have the software to watch that through the bush caucus and legislative council. We think it will be close, and we think we should be able to maintain my seat. If it fails and the seat goes away, then I go north, run against someone in Juneau, or I retire. I’m hoping we can keep our identity. What you lose there is the rural voice of Alaska, and it won’t be just my seat. We figure you would lose three in the body that would be absorbed by urban seats. I also think people should vote yes on the other propositions, for veterans loans and bonds for schools and education.

U.S. Senate
Scott McAdams (D) is running against Joe Miller (R) and incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who is waging a write-in campaign. Only McAdams and Murkowski submitted answers.

1. I’m running to send Alaska values to Washington. Alaska needs a senator that will fight for federal investment important to the continuing development of our young state, it needs someone who will keep our promises to seniors and believes in the promise of our children. I have spent the last 8 years as a local elected official and stood before my friends and neighbors to answer for my decisions every day. Alaska is a collection of 300 communities, large and small, understanding its local needs is vital to serving the interests of the state.
2. As a former educator and president of Sitka's school board I have an intimate familiarity with rural education. The federal government has failed to adequately fund education priorities and the No Child Left Behind Act has left schools teaching to a test, not educating our students. I will fight to reform this misguided practice and be a vocal voice for local control of classrooms that respects rural communities.
3. I look forward to working with Skagway and the Corps of Engineers to make sure the community has the Port infrastructure necessary for the community to thrive. Alaska is an infrastructure poor state and we must continue to pursue federal investment to build a strong economy. I support the current process where local communities decide their priorities and seek federal funds from their representatives. Skagway should be mindful that my opponent Senator Murkowski has voted against over $400 million in Alaska projects over the last year and my other opponent Joe Miller has taken an oath to oppose federal funds for projects requested by local communities.
4. As an Alaskan raised in Southeast, I am a big supporter of the Alaska Marine Highway System. I believe reliable transportation is vital to the Southeast economy and our ferry system is an integral part of its foundation. As a U.S. Senator I will pursue the construction of the Alaska Class Ferry in an Alaska shipyard built by Alaskans. I will certainly review proposals by the State of Alaska and Department of Transportation for a road to Juneau.
5. I will work to finally open the natural resources that have been locked up in ANWR by political wrangling and use the federal revenues to create a Renewable Energy Permanent Fund for America. This will help create energy independence and work to eliminate our current rural dependency on diesel generators. We must move to new energy sources to cut rates and keep our communities strong. I will make sure that No Child Left Behind is truly reformed to remove the unfunded federal mandates and national testing standards that weaken our schools. Communities, not D.C. bureaucrats, should lay the groundwork for our children’s education. I will fight to finally get Alaska a fair share of offshore oil and gas revenues like Louisiana gets. Alaska’s natural resources are the green choice in a global marketplace. We need to continue the responsible development of our resources, but ensure that Alaska gets its fair share.

1. My love of Alaska drives me each and every day to work to improve and protect our great state. Alaska has come a long way, but we are still a young state that must continue to grow and prosper. Alaska’s future is bright, I have the leadership and proven experience that we need in Washington, DC right now. More specifically, my position as the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and increasing seniority on the Appropriations Committee in addition to my seat on the Indian Affairs Committee maximize my ability to protect and deliver for Alaska.
2. Declining enrollment means less state funding, putting pressure on Skagway to provide for music, library, technology, and more. Skagway’s future depends on the quality of its school and the availability of good jobs that keep families in town. My Senate seniority and my position on key committees allows me to deliver on job-producing projects like the dock and the railroad line, also allows me to block the Administration’s proposal to nationalize what’s taught and who teaches. It also means I can help fix No Child Left Behind so the law works for Alaska's small communities and work on changes to the Secure Rural Schools law.
3. I am fully supportive of earmarks obtained through an open and transparent process as Congress has a constitutional responsibility regarding federal spending. Earmarks have supported Alaskan priorities such as the Denali Commission, countless health clinics and harbor construction projects, and the many improvements at our state’s military bases. Projects like the Skagway Harbor expansion and a rail upgrade will never happen without earmarks, because Alaskans know our priorities better than a Washington bureaucrat.
4. I support additional improvements in ferry service to upper Lynn Canal, but not necessarily a full road link unless there is clear public support from all three communities on both economic and environmental grounds. To further ferry service I have introduced a bill to promote up to $200 million a year for ferry improvements nationwide, a bill that hopefully will be approved by Congress next year. That should help provide Alaska money for upgraded service.
5. Provide more certainty for Alaska’s economic future, by ensuring there is more access to our natural resources such as additional oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and ANWR; open NPRA, start construction of a natural gas pipeline; expand the use of renewable energy and protect our fisheries. Protect Alaska from the heavy hand of Washington, D.C., by fighting to block onerous new regulations that would harm Alaska, whether they be from the EPA or from the NOAA; and ensuring our military bases remain among the finest in the world. Improve our economy by reducing our national deficit, putting a stop to out-of- control federal spending, and ensuring families and businesses have certainty regarding the future by making sure the tax code is predictable.

Ethan Berkowitz (D) is running against incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Only Berkowitz submitted answers.

1. Leadership requires a combination of vision and values, as well as the strength and toughness to do the job. I’ve shared my vision with my strategic,multi-part plan, “TheAlaskanOwnership Stake”. Alaskans know they can count on me to do the right thing –I’m proud that asthe Minority Leader in 2006 I was the only legislator to call out the corruption as it was occurring, and that Governor Palin asked me to write a white paper on ethics. During this campaign, I’ve pointed out that Alaska’s future is endangered by having a governor who is reactive, passive and timid. We are at our best when we have leaders who are bold innovators, who recognize that it is in our character to be independent and self-reliant and who govern by the credo, “ Alaska First.”
2. My recognition that each student is a unique individual and should be treated and taught that way makes me the better “education candidate”. So too does mystronger record standing up for teachers and students, and my willingness to make sure that pre-school is available to all Alaskans who want to take advantage of it. The fact is, my children attend public school. Throughout my career I have insisted that rural schools and rural students have access to an education system equal to urban schools and students. And while I was fighting for increased school funding – for the classroom and for construction – Sean Parnell opposed us every step of the way. For more proof that I am the better education candidate – compare our websites as we discuss education. Mine is www.EthanBerkowitz.com.
3. Yes. Infrastructure is critical to our ability to secure jobs and create economicdevelopment opportunities for our state. Ports are the literal gateway for our tourism industry, and intermodal facilities,particularly rail,are critical for moving Alaskan resources to market.
4. Currently, I believe we need to focus on improving the Alaska Marine Highway System, creating an Alaskan-built fleet that is affordable, reliable and convenient. The Road also depends on the support of connected communities, as well as a plan for securing funding for construction, operations and maintenance.
5. First, build an All-Alaska gasline and secure a better investment climate so that we can fill Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Second, make sure we are “open for business” (including a reduction in the state corporate income tax) and diversify our economy. Third, bring low cost energy to all Alaskans all across the state.

U.S. House
Harry Crawford (D) is running against incumbent Congressman Don Young (R). Only Young submitted answers.

1. I bring a unique knowledge of the communities throughout Alaska. I’ve personally visited hundreds of communities numerous times throughout my career to see firsthand the issues that affect Alaskans. I also bring a passion to the job that a lone Congressman must have to represent an entire state in a field of 435 representatives. Most of all, I have friendships on both sides of the aisle and a history of getting things done in the U.S. House.
2. I taught 5th, 6th, and 7th grade in Fort Yukon before I ran for office. That has enabled me to view education in a different manner than those who go to Washington with no prior education experience. I have supported increased funding for education throughout my career, and I have worked on legislation that would improve student performance. I have introduced legislation such as H.R. 4837, the School Accountability Improvement Act, which would grant more flexibility to districts who are struggling to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in how they address those issues.
3. Yes, I support earmarks to expand the port and will provide whatever assistance I can to show my support to Transportation Secretary LaHood, a former House colleague of mine.
4. I’ve supported a Juneau Access road throughout my career, including an earmark of $15 million to the project in SAFETEA-LU.
5. Maintain the level of funding from SAFETEA-LU for Alaska in the next surface transportation bill, increase Alaska’s opportunities for the development of natural resources, and reduce the federal government’s intrusion on Alaska.

VOTE NOV. 2: Polls open at Skagway City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee voting available weekdays through Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. at borough offices.