Lifelong Alaskan Heath Smith, 50, comes with a multigenerational political pedigree. Though Smith is running for political office for the first time, his grandfather, George Sharrock, was known as “the earthquake mayor,” or mayor of Anchorage in 1964 during the Great Alaska Earthquake. His father, Bill Smith, also ran for city council and recently served as Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, stepping down in 2014 after he could not run for re-election because of term limits. His uncle, Larry Smith, also has been active in politics.
Smith said he mentioned to his dad that he might want to run for council, and Bill Smith suggested getting some experience on city commissions. He decided to leap ahead to the council.
“I’m to the point where I’m ready to be involved on a level where I can help make decisions,” Smith said.
With Homer facing a fiscal gap of almost $900,000, some of those decisions will be hard, Smith said.
“I think we’re at a point of critical mass. There are some very difficult decisions that have to be made,” he said. “I want to represent a demographic of the city.”
That demographic would be citizens raised in Homer struggling to raise a family here. Smith was born in Anchorage and moved to Homer in 1974 at age 9. His dad had a job with the harbor and later started a business, Mud Bay Sheet Metal. Smith graduated from Homer High School in 1984 back when it was at what’s now Homer Middle School and went to middle school when it was in what’s now the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex. His family lived at Mile 11 East End Road, and he remembered having to hitchhike into town as a teenager.
Two years into college at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, Smith served two years as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Uruguay. He later graduated from BYU with a bachelor of arts in international relations. With a love for travel, Smith thought about becoming a foreign service officer but nixed the idea.
“I decided I just wanted to have the ability to set roots somewhere and not move around at the whim of the government,” Smith said.
Setting down roots meant Homer. He’s been married 20 years to Tara, part of the Pat and Ray Evarts family that owns Kachemak Wholesale. They have six children ages 18 to 3. He’s a Mariner dad, with daughter Elsie a junior on the volleyball team.
Smith might also be the candidate who’s knocked on more doors than anyone else on the council slate — but in his job as a driver and service provider for United Parcel Service. After college he worked for his dad at Mud Bay Sheet Metal and later started his own business, Comfort Flow Quality Heating, doing residential heating system installation. He also was a serviceman for Toyo Stoves. In 1996 he started driving part-time for UPS and then went full time. He’s been with UPS almost 19 years.
Smith said the role of local government is to provide core services like police and fire protection, emergency services and utilities.
“That’s the obvious answer,” he said. “It’s important to me that it be efficient in what it does.”
Every department considers itself an essential service, Smith noted. In prior budget years, former City Manager Walt Wrede asked department heads where they could make cuts and what were essential or urgent services. Most everyone checked the box “essential,” Smith said.
“To Walt’s credit, he turned down a number of them,” he said.
The city can provide essential services without spending as much money as it has, Smith said.
“I think we can be a first-class city without having the cost of a first-class life,” he said.
Smith said he’s not anti-tax and not anti-city. At the same time, the city shouldn’t overreach, as with the Public Safety Building, with a proposed price of between $25 and $30 million.
“We need to be OK with maybe using a facility that isn’t nearly at that scope,” he said. “Even if we have to build a police station first and revisit building a fire department, let’s do it.”
If people don’t vote for him, Smith said he’s OK with that — as long as they vote.
“The only guarantee is I’m going to work hard at things that make sense and secure our financial future,” he said. “I want to stay here. I want my kids to stay here.”