Registered Democrats in the new House District 33 won’t have a difficult decision when choosing their nominee for the local House seat. One candidate, Ketchikan’s Matt Olsen, will be on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot.
Olsen is a Ketchikan City Council member and an elementary school teacher. He said he decided to run for state House because he didn’t believe the community has been represented well. Olson said that’s a common belief in Ketchikan.
“People didn’t like how things were going,” he said. “I didn’t like that we didn’t have a coastal
zone management issue. I didn’t like that we had a Legislature that looked poised to giving away $2 billion of our oil income a year, which is ours. I thought we needed to have representation that looked after the interest of our state and looked after the interests of District 33.”
Olsen stressed the need for affordable energy, a good education system, and a strengthened economy. He said those three items all are tied together.
“I believe that what we really need in this community and in our region to be successful is cheap and affordable energy, because without that energy, we’re not going to be able to do anything else,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to educate our children, which is really important. Because if we can’t educate our children to take our place, and to come in and fill all those jobs we need; when we have the energy and we have the necessary infrastructure in place to have a robust economy, we’re not going to have people here to fill those jobs.”
Olsen said he was raised in Ketchikan, and knows how much Southeast has to offer. He added that his job as a school teacher and his position on the City Council allow him direct contact with a wide variety of local residents.
Olsen said that if he wins the general election, he would continue to teach, just not the whole year.
“I’m lucky in that the contract that the teachers have in this district has an elected official provision in it,” he said. “I have the ability to ask for and negotiate with the superintendent and the School Board to teach a certain part of the year, and so far I’ve had support in that I can possibly do a job share. I want to keep teaching because I love teaching. That’s what I am. All the other stuff is secondary to being a father and a husband and a teacher.”
Olsen’s top priority if elected would be to revitalize the region through energy development. He said more hydroelectric dam capacity is critical. To win financial support from the state for more dams will mean pushing statewide energy improvements.
“It’s the same process that (state Senator) Bert Stedman keeps bringing up whenever he talks about the fire hall or the libraries,” Olsen said. “You’re going to have to do some negotiations. Up north, they want to put that huge dam across the Susitna River. That whole process right there is an opening for us.”
He said increasing capacity at the existing dams at Swan and Tyee lakes, and building the Whitman Lake hydroelectric dam are viable projects that would help southern Southeast Alaska.
Olsen said he would work to build relationships with other legislators. He said that’s something he has experience with. He gave an example from the Ketchikan City Council.
“Council Member (Dick) Coose and I are pretty much divergent on a lot of political views, yet in our brief service time together, and I said this at the last meeting, I’ve come to count him as one of the people I’m closest to on there, because he and I have actually talked outside of meetings,” Olsen said. “We’ve had great conversations about education. And we’ve come to understandings. And it’s the ability to build those types of relationships that’s a positive that I have.”
Following the recent state redistricting, former House Districts 1 and 2 — Ketchikan and Wrangell — were combined into House District 33. The new district also includes some Prince of Wales Island communities and Hyder.
Olsen said the whole region has similar issues, and he would look for solutions to problems that all the district communities face.
“They’re all pretty much the same and if you follow the news, you can really see that,” he said. “Right now, Wrangell is having some issues with their health care up there. When I was up there in November, they were digging up one of their main streets. They have infrastructure needs. It’s all the same throughout our region. It’s all the same throughout our region, and we need to remember that when we move forward and go up into Juneau.”
A statewide issue Olsen mentioned is the need for affordable health care. He supports the formation of health insurance exchanges, which he said would provide alternatives to Alaskans who now can’t afford insurance premiums.
“We have to remember that there are a lot of children and a lot of elders in our state that don’t have health coverage,” he said. “And the more we can have them under a health system, the better. For the children, it’s because they’re going to have healthier lives going forward, and for the elders it’s because they’re going to be able to get better care later in life when they more need it.”
Olsen stressed the need for long-term planning. He said Southeast has tremendous natural resources, such as fishing and timber, and the region can use those to plan for the future. However, he said, the state needs to step in.
“The state isn’t putting any effort or energy or money down here to promote what we have,” he said. “That’s where we have to have an advocate in Juneau saying we have these resources, we want to do this as an economy, we want to build this, you need to be a partner with us.”
Following Tuesday’s election, Olsen will face the winner of the Republican primary, which is a race between three women: Ketchikan residents Patti Mackey and Agnes Moran, and incumbent Wrangell Rep. Peggy Wilson.
Incumbent Ketchikan Rep. Kyle Johansen also plans to be on the general election ballot. He pulled out of the Republican primary to run as an independent, and has been gathering signatures to qualify. Johansen said he has about 90 signatures so far, which is more than the minimum 50 needed. The deadline for him to turn in the petition is Tuesday.