Senator Bert Stedman addresses a Southeast Conference audience. Southeast candidates listen. Left to right: Richard Wein, Trevor Shaw, Sara Hannan, Dan Ortiz, Chris Dimond, Jonathan Kriss-Tomkins (KRBD staff photo by Maria Dudzak).

A legislative leaders forum was Thursday afternoon at Southeast Conference in Ketchikan.  Six Southeast candidates running in the November General Election, along with Senator Bert Stedman, participated in the forum.

The forum was moderated by Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference. Senator Stedman, who is not up for re-election this year, spoke at the beginning and end of the forum, giving an update on the status of projects in District R, and concerns about the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend.

The six candidates were incumbent Dan Ortiz and challenger Trevor Shaw vying for the House District 36 seat; incumbent Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins challenged by Richard Wein for the House District 35 seat; and Sara Hannan and Chris Dimond competing for the District 33 seat held by Sam Kito III, who is not seeking reelection.

The candidates were asked what they would most like to accomplish if elected.  Kreiss-Tompkins says he would like to see a balanced budget.

“And I’d like to see us to get all the way to a fully solvent and sustainable budget so we eliminate the uncertainty that will allow Alaska to hopefully have a prosperous next 50-plus years.”

Wein says he would like to “do what needs to be done,” not provide popular answers just to get votes.

“And there are so many issues within the budget that are not related to utility, but are related to other things, such as votes. Let me tell you that that relates to K-12. It relates to health care.”

He says supporting businesses is a way to jump-start the economy.

Ortiz says he would like to finish developing a full fiscal plan.

“The House majority was able to put forward a fully-balanced fiscal plan in this last legislative session. We continue to have about a $7 million deficit. In the meantime, in the last six years, we’ve burned through $14 billion in savings. We just can’t continue to do that.”

Shaw says he would like to look at efficiency, sustainability and opportunities for Alaska.

“The house coalition has put together a balanced budget on the backs of hardworking Alaskans though immense tax increases and cuts to the Permanent Fund Dividend without any plan on how to spend that money, and actually change government in a way that’s meaningful and sustainable. So the first thing we have to do is sit down and have a conversation about a strategic plan for Alaska that actually works.”

Dimond says transportation and infrastructure needs are his priorities.

“Obviously the budget is a part of that, but I believe if we can do those two things in conjunction together that we will be able to get Southeast and the rest of the state moving forward in a positive direction.”

Hannan says she’d like to see a plan that allows Alaska to grow for the future.

“Where we see better 40 years down the road. Where we don’t see continued cuts and things like our university and ferry system at risk annually, to patching the budget year to year. So balancing the budget, a fiscal plan and a future growth plan (is) how we all move forward together.”

The candidates were asked where they stand on Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would establish new requirements and a new permitting process for any projects affecting anadromous fish streams.

Wein says he would vote against the initiative.

“And in America, you are innocent until proven guilty. With Prop 1, I’m afraid you are guilty if you are a stream until proven innocent, and hence that is the major problem. I certainly do not believe that Fish and Game and the State of Alaska do not stand with salmon.”

Kreiss-Tomkins says he hasn’t made a firm decision and is still trying to sort things out. He says he likes aspects of the proposal, such as public comment and notice, but has concerns…

“…that other aspects of the initiative go too far, effectively impede what I think are straight-forward permitting processes. I haven’t quite analyzed the components the Supreme Court struck out of the initiative, so for now, kind of like the marijuana initiative four years ago, I try not to insert myself too closely into the fray.”

Shaw says he is against the measure.

“No, no, no, no, no. It’s bad news. I’ve never seen a situation where over-regulation is the solution to a problem. It’s just that simple.”

Ortiz says he supports the fishing industry, but has some concerns about the initiative.

“I do believe that it’s perhaps a bit of an overreach in this situation. If there are issues out there in terms of habitat protection, and there are. Make no mistake, there are. I think we can do it with a more surgical knife than this particular initiative.”

Hannan says she is voting yes.

“And I know, that the day after the election, the issues around what led us to Prop 1 are going to be right back before the Legislature, because it’s not ended there. It’s up to the citizens to feel confident that we’re governing our water and air for our long-term health.”

Dimond says he does not support the measure.

“I believe that a big blanket initiative like that that tries to regulate way too much of our state without any clear, defined mechanisms for our industries to operate is going to hamper us.”

In closing, Kreiss-Tomkins says he’s committed to making the best decision, even if it is not always pleasant. Dimond wants to see the state invest in Southeast Alaska more.  Ortiz says he would focus on communication, cooperation and representation in a non-partisan manner. Hannon says, as a teacher, she has the ability to work with anyone and would bring those skills to the Legislature. Shaw says Alaska deserves a better fiscal plan and wants to plan for the state’s future. Wein says he’s a problem solver who is persistent and relentless.

The General Election is Tuesday, November 6th.

You can listen to the entire 50-minute forum below.