Two local hopefuls are among the slate of candidates whose names will appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives. John Cox of Anchor Point is running as a Republican and Frank Vondersaar of Homer as a Democrat.
John Cox, Republican
Cox, 57, was born in Panama while his father was serving there in the U. S. Army. He recalled when his family arrived in Alaska in the 1970s, taking his first breath of Alaska air and announcing, “This is home.”
Upon his graduation from Bartlett High School, Cox obtained his permanent Alaska residency. He is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, has a master’s degree in business and is the owner of Smokin’ Fine Cigars and Loose Tobacco in Anchor Point.
His first race for the U.S. House in 2010 was a learning experience.
“I knew I didn’t have a shot in Hades to win. I just wanted to see how things were done,” he told the Homer News in an interview on Monday.
What Cox learned then and again when he ran in 2012 was that running for office not only required funding, but that funding was seen as a measure of his potential. After giving a 45-minute interview with a reporter and thinking any press was good press, Cox said he was surprised when the resulting article “basically had two lines: ‘John Cox is another candidate. He doesn’t appear to be raising funds.’”
What the 2012 race offered was another opportunity for him to put his name before voters.
The 2014 election is different, Cox said.
“People are fed up with Washington. They really are,” he said. “There’s a new rating on Congress and it’s the lowest it’s been in history.”
Cox also believes it’s time to replace Republican Don Young, Alaska’s representative in Congress since 1973.
“One thing people have to understand is that (Young) has a lot of seniority, but his seniority means nothing anymore. He’s not in charge of anything,” said Cox.
The country’s current economic situation concerns Cox.
“We’re borrowing money from countries like China and then turning around and giving it back to them in the form of aid. We give it to countries that hate our guts, that would just as soon wipe us off the face of the earth,” he said.
Unemployment is an area where he questions the government’s role.
“We live in a nation where you make more money sitting on the couch collecting from some social programs,” he said. “As a Catholic, I believe we all fall on hard times and I’ll give a helping hand. But too many people are sitting around taking money from some government program, not realizing where it comes from, from people working the daily grind, every day.”
He recalled in 2013, when it appeared unemployment benefits were going to expire, and a constant flow of people came into his Anchor Point business looking for work.
“Then in December, when they extended unemployment benefits, not one person came in asking for a job. There’s a problem there,” he said.
With three decades of military service, Cox is critical of the lack of military background among elected officials.
“Right now in Washington, less than 5 percent of those serving in Congress have ever served in the military,” said Cox. “How can you have someone who’s never picked up a weapon and defended this country or served time in the military decide what type of theater of operations we’re going to get involved in?”
He believes in congressional term limits, as well as limits on what members of Congress can do after their terms in office expire.
“The Senate is a six-year term, so I give them two terms if they’re elected for a second one. After that’s done, unless they run for president, they’re out of there. No time in the halls of Washington as a lobbyist. If they want to do something for their state, then they can go back to their state,” said Cox. “As for the House of Representatives, three terms, or six years. You really can’t get much done in the first term. It takes time to work your way around things.”
When it comes to immigration, Cox sees no need for reform.
“We have immigration laws on the books. They just need to be enforced,” he said.
He offers an “easy fix” for the Veterans Administration.
“Just have the VA pay for our insurance. How hard is that?” he said.
When all is said and done, Cox said, “I’m a common sense kind of person. And we just need to bring common sense back to Washington.”
Frank Vondersaar, Democrat
Vondersaar, 63, was born in Kokomo, Ind., and is a 36-year Alaska resident. He served 13 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1985 as a major. Among his educational degrees, Vondersaar lists a bachelor’s degree in engineering, master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctorate in law. Since 1981, he has been a registered professional engineer in Alaska, and has been a member of the Alaska Bar Association since 1989.
Locally, Vondersaar is vice president of public radio station KBBI’s board of directors and is on Friends of the Homer Public Library’s board.
Vondersaar was one of five Democrats on the 1992 primary ballot with plans to unseat Sen. Frank Murkowski. Tony Smith of Anchorage was the top Democrat vote-getter in the primary, but Murkowski won in the general election.
“I just wanted to give people a choice to elect someone that wasn’t elected by the right wing so much,” said Vondersaar.
His biggest issues during that election were the economy, civil rights, election reform and the lack of a national health care system. He also supported the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.
Two years later, Vondersaar made another bid for the ballot, that time with his sights set on Young.
“His central message has not changed since that (1992) race — that the free-wheeling 1980s saw the rich get richer on the backs of the poor,” said a Homer News July 25, 1994, interview with Vondersaar. “He also thought then, and continues to profess now, that the major issues are the economy, election reform and the lack of a national health-care program.”
In 22 years, Vondersaar has continued to run for office. During that time, he consistently claims he has been harassed by secret police, but acknowledges he lacks any proof.
“The latest thing is a stroke, or the symptoms of a stroke, so I’m not doing too well right now as far as campaign running,” Vondersaar told the Homer News by phone Saturday. “But I still have the intention of fighting the right wing and supporting the ‘yes on 1’ thing.”
Looking back at the issues that inspired him to run in 1992, Vondersaar said, “Health care, now we’ve got that, but the right wing is still taking shots at Obamacare and Obama. The more I can do to help him with getting a reasonable Congress, particularly the U.S. House, would be the best thing.”
He believes the “five-fascist majority U.S. Supreme Court needs to be redone,” supports the appointment of new federal justices and believes the election of Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. President “would be the next best thing.”
Concerning the opening of ANWR, Vondersaar said, “I don’t mind if they drill there, but it’s not high on my list of priorities at this second. Voting yes on (Ballot Measure) 1 is more important.”
Also on the Aug. 19 primary, Ballot Measure 1 seeks to repeal the state’s oil and gas tax structure as established in Senate Bill 21, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Parnell in May 2013.
“It’s going to be tight, but there might be enough people who want it,” said Vondersaar. “I’d prefer to see it win instead of Parnell’s erosion of giving (the oil industry) more tax breaks.”
Of the upcoming election, Vondersaar said, “Even though the Democratic Party may choose another person, my personal beliefs need to be expressed. This is the best way to do that. … I feel like I need to do something.”
Given his current physical condition — he said he has lost most of the functionality of his right arm and leg — and the similarities between himself and Forrest Dunbar, another Democratic candidate, Vondersaar said, “People can vote for me if they would like, but if they don’t, voting for Dunbar is just as good right now as far as I can tell.”
• For more info on John Cox: email Johnrcox_for_congress@yahoo.com; visit johnrcoxforcongress.com.
• For more info on Frank Vondersaar: email email@example.com; visit sites.google.com/site/vondersaar.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.