Candidate Q&A: Kelly Cooper

Assembly President and business owner seeks first term in Alaska House

Local elected official and business owner Kelly Cooper is hoping to move from the borough level to the state Legislature, and is running against incumbent Rep. Sarah Vance in District 31 of the Alaska House of Representatives.

Cooper owns Coop’s Coffee and Glacier View Cabins, and just finished up her second term on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representing the Homer area. Cooper has run a campaign as an Independent choice, but not with the Alaska Independence Party. She is officially listed as non-affiliated, and is a petition nominee candidate.

If elected, this would be Cooper’s first term in the Alaska Legislature. Vance, a Republican, just finished her freshman term in the House.

According to a 30-day report filed on Oct. 5 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Cooper raised $29,932 between Aug. 9 and Oct. 2 for the General Election. According to APOC, she had raised $59,424 for the Primary Election, for a total of $89,357 raised over the course of her entire campaign.

Some of the larger contributions to Cooper’s campaign detailed in the most recent 30-day report include $1,000 from the Employees Political Information Committee, $1,000 from the Alaska Professional Fire Fighters Association Political Action Fund, $1,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 of Alaska, $500 from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America Local 1243 PAC in Fairbanks, and $1,370 from the Mary McKinnon Fund in Fairbanks, which raises funds for women who are first-time candidates for the Alaska Legislature.

APOC campaign disclosures show Cooper spent $1,835 on advertising through Facebook throughout August and September, and $247 in other digital advertising in October.

Cooper’s campaign also spent a combined $5,190 on radio ads for the period of August through early October, and $9,680 on campaign mail.

Question: What made you want to run for the Alaska House of Representatives?

Answer: I love solving tough problems. It’s one of the ways I give back to my community. I have been investing in this community since I arrived in 2002. Serving on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for six years — twice as president, serving on the hospital operating board and the chamber board not to mention being a member of the Chamber and Homer Marine Trades Association give me a unique perspective on our district’s needs. What I’ve learned with all of those roles is we all love our community and we have to work together with all sides to offer solutions to complex problems. I feel our district has not been getting the representation we need and deserve.

Q: Other than issues caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what do you see as the three biggest issues currently facing the state of Alaska?

A: • Balancing Alaska’s budget — see my philosophy below.

• Getting our economy moving again. We need to manage our fisheries with science, and diversify industry to responsibly develop non renewable resources and grow renewable resource development alongside it.

• Public Education — Educating our children is one of the most important things we do as a state, and it’s a commitment to our future. I want Alaskans to have world-class opportunities, whether it’s K-12, trade schools or the University of Alaska system. As the only arctic state in the nation, our universities’ role in Arctic research is critical.

Q: What is your position/philosophy on how to balance a state budget?

A: Governments need to ensure that they have stable revenue sources so that they can forecast spending appropriately. Relying only on oil taxes leaves us vulnerable to fluctuations in the global price of oil. We need to maximize the benefit to Alaskans from our existing revenues as our constitution dictates, but make sure that we’re doing that properly. With a $1.5 billion dollar deficit, we can’t cut our way out of this problem.

When it comes to finding cost-savings, I do support downward pressure on a budget, and you can trust me to make the difficult decisions when it’s time to tighten our belts. We saw in 2019 what it would look like to make huge cuts and see what survived. It started a conversation, and Alaskans spoke out to say that’s not the future they want for our state.

Q: Do you support a full Permanent Fund Dividend as set in the 1986 formula?

A: With a balanced budget, yes.

Q: Which state departments or areas of state spending, if any, do you see as being able to be cut in the next budget cycle? Please be specific.

A: Special assistants and newly created positions as well as sole source contracts with automatic renewals. I believe budgets can’t just be cut across the board. We need to look at each department for areas that have more value and cuts should be made at the top, not to the boots on the ground where we get the most return on investment.

We have to be careful of cost shifting though. When my opponent supported the governor’s cuts to school bond debt reimbursement, the state broke its promise to the people of the Kenai Peninsula. Those cuts didn’t save money for the taxpayers — my opponent simply passed on the $2.5 million in costs to the borough level.

Q: What is your stance on introducing a statewide tax to Alaska (either an income tax or a sales tax)?

A: I believe before either of these are introduced, we need to have the discussion with Alaskans and get a broad consensus. But first, let’s maximize the revenues we currently have on the books.

Q: How do you plan to help the House and Senate achieve cooperation when it comes to passing a budget?

A: Respectful disagreement, not storming out of the room. As an owner of two small businesses I’ve learned that it matters how you treat people. My time on the assembly has taught me the value of cooperation and compromise. I make decisions based on the issue and not the person or party. Whether we agree or not, you just can’t take it personally. The way we get our budget issues addressed is to stop the partisan bickering and work together as Alaskans.

Q: What is your position on the proposed Pebble Mine project?

A: Wrong mine, wrong place. The Bristol Bay fishery is an existing, vibrant, renewable resource. The mine doesn’t pencil out as proposed, and the recently released Pebble Tapes show that the proposed mine is a foot in the door for a much larger project. I believe fish are one of our most valuable resources, and they are a renewable resource at that.

Q: What is your favorite book and why?

A: My answer to this question has changed in different seasons of my life. When my daughter Veronica was entering her teen years, I learned so much from “Reviving Ophelia.” When my son Leo was learning to read, we shared the Redwall series together, and I really cherished that time with him.

In this moment, when so much is focused on the future of the PFD and of our state, I have read and reread “Diapering the Devil,” Jay Hammond’s book on the creation of the Permanent Fund. That book has taught me a lot about how we can manage our state’s resources for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans.