One result of the state’s recent redistricting, which combined the former House Districts one and two: No matter who wins the new House District 33 general election, some communities, if not all, will have a brand-new representative.
Ketchikan will have to wait to find out whether it will keep incumbent former House District One Rep. Kyle Johansen. He pulled out of the primary election to run as an independent in the general. Wrangell, however, will learn as early as Tuesday whether its former House District Two Rep. Peggy Wilson will continue in the race.
Wilson faces two newcomers to state politics. Patti Mackey, who heads the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, and Agnes Moran, a Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly member, both have the advantage of living in the new district’s largest city.
However, Wilson said her experience gives her the advantage.
“I know the history of the different issues that we have come in contact with in the 12 years that I’ve been in,” she said. “I know what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve got a lot of institutional knowledge … and also now I’m in leadership, and that leadership puts me in a position that I can really get more done and actually bring more cash to my district.”
All the primary election candidates, including the lone Democrat, Matt Olsen, say they want to help improve the region’s economy.
Mackey said her top priority if elected would be ensuring that state resources are used to build strong local economies.
“You do that by continuing and making sure you have good communication with local leadership, because it’s not a legislator that’s going to decide which type of economic activity is going to occur in a community,” she said. “It’s going to be the community, it’s going to be the businesses. They’re going the ones that put the priorities together for what they feel is needed to develop their local economies. And then they’re going to come to their representative and want help in achieving that goal.”
The origin of candidates’ campaign donations has been a topic of discussion leading up to the primary. Moran said all of her donations have been from residents of the district, and she doesn’t want to be beholden to donors from elsewhere.
The other candidates say it’s not an issue, as long as donations are reported. Olsen, a Ketchikan City Council Member and local teacher, said donations from other communities show a broader support base that could be helpful to a legislator.
“If you can’t reach out across a state and talk to people across a state, then you’re not going to be very good in a Legislature, reaching out and looking across the aisle at someone who might feel a little different from you on some subject,” he said. “And if you can’t reach across there and talk with them, then you’re not going to be any use to us up there. If all you’re going to do is focus on the local, completely on the local, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage when you reach the Legislature.”
All the primary candidates agree that increased hydroelectric capacity is key to the district’s future. Moran said that while hydroelectric dams are expensive to build, once they are built, they provide inexpensive power for many years. She said it appears that raising the Swan Lake Dam to increase capacity should be looked at first.
“But even saying that, you can’t just look at hydro in Southeast without considering the energy issues that are going on up in the Interior,” she said. “I think if you’re going to have a successful hydro push in Southeast, It’s got to be part of a larger comprehensive energy plan throughout the state, because we need to address the energy issues of the railbelt, and we need to address the energy issues of the remote portions of the state.”
Johansen has held off campaigning during the primary season, and said he will actively
campaign following Tuesday’s election.
“I thought it was fair for the voters to concentrate on the candidates in the primary,” he said. “For me to get in there and be a part of it would be I think a distraction to those people on the ballot. Since I’m not going to be on the primary ballot, I didn’t think it was fair for me to interject into the debate. But I look forward to a good, healthy debate for the general. I think it’s going to be a really good, positive experience.”
Throughout the primary campaign, various candidates have said that for the past few years, Ketchikan hasn’t had good leadership in the House. Johansen said voters should look at his record and decide.
“We have had great success in the Legislature for the past six years, and anybody that said that we haven’t is obviously not looking at the facts of the case and my record,” he said. “I run on my record and my achievements.”
Johansen raised the ire of many constituents in 2010, when during a legislative organizational meeting he forfeited his leadership position and walked out of the Majority Caucus.
Before walking out, Johansen offered to step down as House Majority leader if caucus members would give his friend, Rep. Charisse Millet, a seat on the House Finance Committee.
After that offer was rejected, Johansen and Millet left the caucus, giving up all leadership positions. Johansen has not been readmitted to the Majority Caucus, but he said he would join the caucus if re-elected.
“Every Legislature every two years is a completely new exercise, so there’s no connection to the Legislature before,” he said. “People have come and gone from caucus for years since statehood, and the next organization, they’re right back in as though nothing had ever happened. Clean slate. And I’ve got great relations with all 59 other legislators. That’s not even a concern at all in my mind.”
Johansen said he has 90 signatures – 40 more than required — on his petition to file for the general ballot. He said he plans to continue gathering through Saturday, and will submit the petition by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Tuesday is the primary election day. In addition to the candidates, voters will decide two ballot questions: Ballot Measure One proposes to raise the legally allowable exemption that some local governments offer on property tax; Ballot Measure Two would create a state Coastal Zone Management Program.