Dan Ortiz talks to the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce about his bid for state House. Ortiz is running as an independent.

Dan Ortiz kicked off his campaign for state House with a presentation this week to the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. He touched on why he’s running, why he chose to remain nonpartisan and his position on a variety of current topics.

Ortiz is a longtime high school teacher, which quickly became apparent during his presentation. Here’s how he ended many of his comments: “Does that make sense?”

Ortiz started with his background, and his connection to the community. He said he arrived in Ketchikan when he was 10 years old, later worked at the pulp mill and in the fishing industry, and has been a teacher at Ketchikan High School since 1982.

He’s also an independent candidate, which means he’s not affiliated with any political party. An audience member asked him why he chose that route, whether he’s always been independent and if not, what was his previous affiliation?

“That’s a good question,” Ortiz said. “The answer to your question: I’ve not always been an independent, but I have been for at least the last six or seven years. And I’m a nonpartisan. I’m registered as a nonpartisan.”

Before that, Ortiz was a member of the Republican Moderate Party, but that party disbanded. He said he doesn’t believe partisan politics is helpful, particularly at the national level, but also to some degree at the state level. Ortiz said it shouldn’t be about party, but about what’s best for southern Southeast Alaska.

Another audience member asked who Ortiz would caucus with, if elected. He said that would depend first on who invited him. After that, “I would also have to look very strongly at what would be the best interest of our region. And finally, I would have to look at the stipulations of caucusing with one group or another. I certainly wouldn’t let my values or my priorities be sacrificed just for the sake of political gain.”

Ortiz said his focus as a legislator would be on economic development through renewable energy projects, protecting and enhancing the commercial fishing industry, developing natural resources including timber, and – of course – making sure Alaska properly educates its future work force.

An audience member asked Ortiz about his position on SB21, the oil tax reform bill that passed last year but is subject to a repeal initiative. Ortiz is the high school debate coach, and SB21 was the topic of a recent debate competition. That means that, with his students, Ortiz spent a lot of time researching both sides of that complex issue.

“And it’s a tough topic, because I can certainly understand the need to create incentives for further exploration and the development of our oil resources here in the state of Alaska,” he said. “However, I do stand with Sen. Stedman on this particular issue.”

Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican whose district includes Ketchikan, strongly opposes SB21, arguing that the state gave away too much with no guarantee of a benefit. Stedman recently introduced an alternative bill in the state Senate.

Ortiz said cutting taxes on existing wells was not necessary, and he supports Stedman’s proposal.

Ortiz said he doesn’t agree with the governor’s decision to not expand Medicaid, because he believes it will create hardships for senior citizens. On the topic of the Pebble Mine and a recent Environmental Protection Agency decision halting that project, Ortiz said he believes Alaskans should decide what happens on state land. However, he also believes that Pebble developers have not proven that the mine would not damage a nearby valuable salmon run.

Regarding the marijuana legalization initiative, Ortiz said he understands the argument in favor of making it legal.

“However, when it comes right down to it, when I go into that ballot box, I have to ask myself: ‘Is this going to help our society?’ And I don’t see that,” he said. “So, personally, I’m going to probably vote no against that.”

Ortiz is running for the state House seat now held by Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson.