At a debate last Friday at the Homer Public Library, Republican Party candidates for House District 31 representative took some easy questions like “What is your favorite book?” or “What foreign languages do you know?”, but the discussion centered on issues key to Alaska’s future. What is the biggest budget issue? How would you cut the budget? Do you support new taxes?
Sponsored by the Friends of the Homer Public Library, moderator Andrew Haas asked questions thought up in advance as well as new questions from the audience. About 75 people attended the debate.
Seven-term Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, faces a challenge from Homer Mayor Mary E. “Beth” Wythe and Anchor Point businessman John “Bear” Cox. No Democratic Party, minor party and independent candidates have filed for the general election, so barring a write-in campaign, the Republican who wins will be Homer’s representative. Early voting has started for the primary to be held Aug. 16. Only Republican Party members or people registered as undeclared or nonpartisan can take the Republican ballot.
Each candidate gave an opening statement and then answered for two a battery of questions. Their statements are given first followed by their answers to various. Answers have been edited for length.
“I believe in the party’s big tent idea of having lots of philosophies in that tent,” Seaton said in his opening statement. “However I am leery, like President Dwight Eisenhower said, of large corporate control and the military industrial complex influence on election and our the electoral process.”
“I view our problems as Alaska problems and not party problems. … I’m a fiscal conservative. I negotiated the largest budget cut by reducing the oil production tax credits which passed the house with bipartisan support. I’m known as a driver for solutions,” Seaton said.
Noting his U.S. Navy military and business experience, Cox said in his statement, We’ve got some serious issues facing Alaska and the United States. … When I give you my word I am going to do something, I am going to do it. I can’t be bought. I’m not backed by anybody. What you see on the streets, advertising and such, I bought out of my own pocket.”
“I’m endorsed by Alaska Right to Life, the Alaska Republican Assembly and Joe Miller. I am conservative.”
Wythe cited her experience as a Homer City Council member and Homer Mayor as qualifications for state representative, she said in her opening statement.
“I think that my service to the city of Homer has prepared me well to work on issues that are facing the state. They are issues that have faced the city of Homer in the 12 years I have been in there,” she said.
Human Resources Director at Homer Electric Association, Wythe also spoke of her transition from a working mother of school-age children to a full-time student after her children grew up. Through distance education programs at the University of Alaska Southeast, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in public administration.
“I did not get my degrees with the purpose of being a lifelong politician but with the intention to provide the best representation I could and understanding the processes,” Wythe said.
Question: What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?
Seaton: “The biggest mistake that I made was when we were considering oil tax Senate Bill 21. When it came up on the floor, I voted against it. … Hoping to get some amendments with better consideration in the next time it came up for reconsideration, I voted in favor of it. That turned out not to be a successful opportunity to get amendments in the following year. … When you make your position known you should stay with it and not look at the political advantages of trying to make that work again.”
Cox: “The biggest mistake was waiting so long in my life to get a college education. I try to push young soldiers to get it right now. Time will creep up on you before you know it.”
Wythe: “Things that came to mind — I see things very clearly as they need to be. It’s hard to then go back and collect people and bring them along on the conversation. … I have taken that to heart. I work really hard to make sure that when I am walking on a path for something that that doesn’t often sense to try to make sure people understand why.”
Question: What is the single largest budget issue?
Wythe: “The economy. We have to talk about ways to develop an economy other than oil and gas.”
Seaton: “It’s the fiscal plan. That has to be the key element that has to be done. How are you going to have a sustainable plan that pays for your budget? …There needs to be a fiscal plan that decides how are you going to generate the revenues that decides the services the people of Alaska want.”
Cox: “We need to bring jobs here. You can’t tax businesses so they don’t want to come here.”
Question: How would you reduce state spending?
Seaton: “We can’t nickel and dime things and spend all our time looking at tiny cuts. We need to look at big chunks. The biggest chunk is oil and gas tax credits. That is the largest expenditure in the state of Alaska — larger than the university. … It’s $750 million cashable tax credits. … We need to start there. …I started with Cook Inlet that has no production tax, but gives credits of $404 million. That’s $404,000 per job on the Kenai.”
Cox: “I agree with Paul, the oil tax. …The Department of Education. I’m not talking about taking money away from teachers. I’m talking about doing away with all these school boards. Why do we need so many? They’re all doing the same job.”
Wythe: “It’s easy to say we have to look at the big pieces, but when the big pieces are the foundation of the income sources we have, we need to protect some of that. …Oil and gas credits have no top end, have no attachment to revenues. Paying what we exceed in revenues — we need to keep that in line. …But I also believe there are other areas. Across the board cuts are not feasible.”
Q: Do support a state income tax?
Q: What about state sales tax?
Q: Are seniors a drain or benefit for the economy of Alaska?
Seaton: “Seniors are a benefit, of course. All people living here are a benefit. … We have to change that to the budget, though. Every person living in Alaska is a drain on the budget. … We’re the only state in the nation that does not have people paying anything for the services we get.”
Cox: “I love seniors, we have to take care of them as much as we can.”
Wythe: “I know senior citizens are a huge contribution to people. The senior exemption is not about the value of seniors. …If you have a society where young people can’t afford to live, they can’t afford to support seniors either.”
Q: Would you cap the PFD?
Wythe: “I would not change the formula of the dividend. No.”
Seaton: “Yes. I proposed a 25 percent of 5-year average that would go to the PFD. The, rest would go to services.”
Cox: “I would not cap it. Money that is there is from our mineral rights. The governor taking your PFD, he has no authority to do that.”
Q: Re. Gov. Walker’s new sustainable Alaska plan. What would you change?
Cox: “I haven’t read it.”
Wythe: “I think the governor he has a good starting place in some aspects. He started the conversation by going to Alaskan, but I believe he arrived with his plan in place … He’s trying to tell you it’s our fault that you haven’t agreed with his plan. He’s just bullying you. He did that with the budget when he took your PFD. He needs to talk to Alaskans more.”
Seaton: “I just have to disagree with the feeling that it hasn’t been shopped. There was a conference. … I had two town hall meetings down here. … The problem with the bill is it’s complex. It restructured the Permanent Fund, where it went, where royalties went. It required about nine other taxes.”
Q: Other than reducing tax incentives, other than cutting state expenses, please identify two sources of state income the state can use.
Wythe: “Primary income sources have been ignored. We cannot miss the fact the Arctic is opening to transport. … We can get a piece of that.”
Seaton: “The problem with many of the solutions that have been talked about is they all cost money. … Supporting billions for Arctic infrastructure, that’s not generating revenue for the state. … The way we can get here is through the revenues that are available and are use in every single state. … Income tax makes sense as 28 percent are nonresidents they’re paying income tax in home state. If we had income tax here, they would pay here.”
Cox: “Let’s do something fun. Let’s bring Power Ball to the state of Alaska. … People spending money in the state. That’s what we need is to create business in the state.”
Q: Sacrifice has been talked about. What do you expect us to sacrifice at the local level?
Seaton: “Two things we will sacrifice, either money to sustain services or you’re going to sacrifice the services. Your infrastructure is going to go to pot. State services are going to be cut drastically. … People have generally said they don’t want to go back to the level of services they had in 1960, gravel roads from here to Kenai.”
Cox: “As a business man I know we all fall on hard times. As a Catholic I believe in giving a hand, but I don’t believe in giving a handout.”
Wythe: “It would be unrealistic to imagine …. that there will not be cuts to services. Whether it will be a hardship to you depends on your perspective. … In Homer we started with nonessential things. There are lots of nice things that are quality of life, parks and recreations, those kinds of activities. … We will go on without them. … No one told us what did Alaskans say we can do without. If Alaskans say these are things we can do without, we should be cutting those services.”
Q: What is your position on funding the Alaska State Library?
Wythe: “To the degree that it is a repository, suspend the support until you can continue to support it. … To the degree that it provides services in communities that are essential, such as keeping our library open so kids can go there after school. In that case, you’re subsidizing day care by having the library open. In that case I don’t think that’s the best choice. …”
Seaton: “This is a choice residents have to make. What’s important to you and what’s not? If people are not willing to contribute to the financial health of state, then the services are going to go away. That’s just it. … You cannot cut 70 percent of your budget and maintain the services that most Alaskans I think want. Our problem here is that we haven’t reached that point where people have said, Oh we want those services or not. They just say, We want these services and we don’t want to pay. … That’s the dilemma we’re at right now, and whether we have to close the library and other functions before people realize that they really did like those services, we’ll find out.”
Cox: “The idea, the concept of print is long gone. We need to focus on a digital age where it’s smaller, it’s easier to handled. It is quite expensive to maintain hardback books. … You the voters are going to have to decide as a community what you want.”
Q: What about funding the University of Alaska?
Seaton: “I thought the cut to University of Alaska was too steep. I understand why the governor had to look around. The $10 million he took out was tough, but not so tough it closed the campuses. …
There are things that are going to go away. Intercollegiate sports, I can tell you they are going to be gone in two years.”
Cox: “I don’t believe the cuts have been enough. The universities are a business, they’re there to make money … (crowd boos) Well, I’m not going to win this one here, am I?”
Wythe: “For me, economic and development and university funds are the last places you want to cut. Those are drivers to the economy.”
Q: Campaign funding. Explain the origins of your campaign donations.
Wythe: “The majority has been personally financed, with over $10,000. That was not a light decision. Beyond that, most are from individuals.”
“I received one check from the Conoco Philips employee group. I know those contributions raise eyes for people. For me I have been a strong supporter of the industry on the peninsula. When I spend my Permanent Fund check, I don’t forget where it comes from. The majority of people have some attachment to oil and gas in their employment. It’s important to remember they are strong contributors to our economy.”
“There is an organization to support on my behalf (Wythe is Right! Seaton Must be Beaten). I have no influence on them, I have no participation with them. Their supporters are not directed by me. “
Seaton: “My campaign contributions come almost exclusively from people in the community, this community and up the road. I got contributions from the dentist association. … I got a couple contributions from PACs associated with labor. … I also received the National Education Association.”
Cox: “Well, this wallet here is pretty empty. … I have received a couple dollars from some individuals. What I tell me who want to give me money, it should not be about how much money you spend, how much you raise. I tell them give it your local school, give it to a veterans organization, give it to your church. Let’s help out Alaskans.… That’s why I won’t take any money unless they force it on me.”
Q: What are your feelings about corporations or their subsidiaries sponsoring candidates? Are you being funded by any oil company interests?
Seaton: “One problem with corporations and Citizens United, you can have independent expenditures. It has overwhelmed the actual message and discussion from candidates. There will be distortions, and you can’t challenge a candidate on it because it came from someplace else.”
“I understand they (oil industry lobbyists) want the best deal they can, from low taxes and high credits. That’s not my position.
Cox: “I’m not being supported by any oil company. What I believe is it’s our oil. We should not be giving any oil credits to any individuals. The state should not be in the pocket of these individuals.”
“It is a business. These oil companies are a business. If they want to come drill, come drill. If you want to strong arm us into giving you more money in tax credits, take your toys and get out of state. Somebody else will come here and drill for us.”
Wythe: “I got one contribution from Conoco Phillips.. I don’t feel like there is any shame in that. …”
“All the natural resources in Alaska are intended to be developed for the benefit of the citizens. … the state of Alaska has no mechanisms in place nor the financial wherewithal to develop those resources on their own. That then leaves us to work with people that do that as their business so we can benefit from that. …. I don’t’ feel like oil and tax credits are selling out to the oil companies. … Oil and gas tax credits should not be larger than a portion of total revenues in a given year. They should not be cumulative. … Credits keep jobs in Alaska.”
Q: Environment. What measures would you take to reduce the impacts of climate change, and what measures would you take to protect our natural resources and wilderness?
Seaton: “With climate change and the increase in carbon dioxide, we are having problems with oysters, and we have a big problem coming. …”
“We know the most carbon polluting source is coal. I have a problem with Chuitna. It may make some jobs, but in the long run the risk of the highest carbon output of that doesn’t make much sense. …”
“I worked on renewable energy, worked on tidal energy, solar energy as well I think we need to look at all those forms as well as hydropower. There are other places in the world that exclusivity use hydropower for oil and gas development, like in Norway. …There are a number of things we can do and I’ll continue to work on it.”
Cox: “I am all for solar, wind energy. If you look at it, the technology is not there. It costs 26 cent per kilowatt, as opposed to coal, 3 cents.”
“If you look at the science behind it, the science has been skewed. There is no global warming. The earth goes through a cycle. We will recover. To say that man is rearing a negative input is wrong.”
Wythe: “Certainly the climate is changing. You used to be able to look at glaciers across the bay. … I think renewables are an important aspect. It’s just really, really expensive. … Renewables will come. If we were as committed as getting renewable energy as getting a man on the moon we’ would have been there already.”
Q: Marijuana. Can it help the state budget crunch? There have been measures to stymie the sales marijuana in Homer area. How do you feel about the process to allow the commercial sale of marijuana in the Homer area?
Seaton: “What we see more than anything else is the severe detrimental effect of alcohol use in Alaska. … Alcohol lowers inhibitions, increases aggression, leads to domestic violence and child abuse. … If we can convert any of that use to promote those who want to change their mental condition and went to marijuana, we would be saving our society a huge social cost.”
Cox: “I believe in the lesser magistrate. …If this one individual says no to the subject and the rest of you say yes, should I fight for this one person or the rest to make it as safe as possible?”
“How many of you know people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, cancer? … If we have a product that would cure that, would you still be against it?”
Wythe: “When marijuana came to the table, when the question came forward and the council came to an impasse, I said if I have to vote on this, my vote is not going to be to make it legal in the city of Homer.”
“Having grown up in Homer, I have a good understanding of drug and alcohol use combined with marijuana. In a party environment it becomes a huge gateway. If talking about medical marijuana, it would be a different conversation. …. If you think you have an issue with heroin, open the doors to marijuana. It lowers their inhibitions and they use other drugs. It’s an issue I’ve taken a positive stand on.”
Q: Would you support defunding Planned Parenthood?
Cox: “Yes. I’m against Planned Parenthood. … We have to stand up for that unspoken voice. That’s why I say life begins at conception.”
Wythe: “This industry when it provides services, it’s attached to abortion. In that capacity we shouldn’t be funding them. …
I would not support in continuing those services. I would support reallocating the good services they provide.”
Seaton: “I believe the Republican Party stands for freedom; freedom, responsibility and accountability. … I believe women have the choice to make themselves. They have the responsibility but also the accountability. … On the abortion issue itself, it’s a woman’s right to control her reproductive body. Planned Parenthood provides lots of reproductive training without doing abortion counseling. …I would not be in support of defunding planned parenthood for the non abortion services.”
Question: In some states there is legislation that gives right to those who claim a religious objection to providing series to gays or lesbians. How would you vote?
Seaton: “No. What we’re doing there is we would allow discrimination based on that characteristic. Doesn’t matter if it’s color or some other characteristic. I would not be supportive of passing such a law.”
Cox: “If their Christian beliefs dictate it made them uncomfortable, they should have the right to refuse services.”
Wythe: “If you operate a business defined as based on your artistic contribution, how can the government force you to provide that service?. This is like I am going to force Ed Tussey to paint a painting whether he wants to or not. The government can’t force you to provide that service. …”
Q: We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Does that include health care?
Wythe: “I think we have an issue with health care in this country. I think the issue is bigger in Alaska than the lower 48. We have accepted we will do Medicaid reform. That has a fiscal cliff. How are we going to fill a gap created like that? We have put in place an action that has no escape route.”
Seaton: “Anyone who goes to the hospital can’t be kicked out. They must treat them, must stabilize them. There is a requirement for care. It’s inappropriate care. It should be primary care. … Federal care would be paid 100 percent and then down to 90 percent after 3 years. Denali Kid Care is 50 percent. … We would save money and we are saving money. The fiscal cliff idea is just not a factor.”
Cox: “In relationship to the constitution, nothing is required to provide health care.”
Question: Caucus voting. How do you feel about that?
Cox: “Would I join a caucus in Juneau? My answer is no. Why have a representative to go down there if they’re going to have a caucus to make a decision?”
Wythe: “In regards to partisan participation, I am running as Republican for a specific reason. I support the party platform. … The party platform is how we will behave in Juneau. It becomes difficult to be sure for you as a voter that you are being represented. There is some differentiation that is expected from the people who vote for you.”
Seaton: “Caucuses in Juneau: They are not fully partisan. The House has always had four Democrats in the majority Republican caucus. The Senate caucus majority has Democrats and Republicans. … The idea that there is one platform that controls everything is not correct. …The ethics law says you cannot talk on bills, cannot talk how you will vote. You can’t come out and say everyone will toe the party line. … The decision cannot be made in caucus legally.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.