Of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s assembly districts, District 9 on the lower peninsula is one of the largest. At 3,400 square miles, as a Supercub plane flies, it spans 80 miles east to west. It includes some of the borough’s most remote and sparsely populated areas: Razdolna, Voznesenka, Kachemak Selo, Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Anchor Point, Diamond Ridge and Fritz Creek. Like District 3, Nikiski, it’s also a district an assembly member would need a boat or plane to reach some villages.
Two candidates new to elective office, Willy Dunne, 60, of Fritz Creek, and Dawson Slaughter, 25, of Anchor Point, run for an open seat. Incumbent Mako Haggerty of Homer cannot run again because of term limits. While apart in age and residence, both candidates mention their experience with illness as one motivation for running.
Slaughter only recently has emerged from a struggle with multiple sclerosis. At 14 he was diagnosed with MS, but still graduated with his class from Homer High School. He’s been in remission for 5 years. When doctors told him he would never walk again and be in a wheelchair, that made him mad, he said.
“I wasn’t going to give up and I’m going to keep fighting,” Slaughter said about that diagnosis. “(People) see that fire that is still in me each day, my positive attitude … It gives you the confidence to go through a race like this.”
Dunne has been active in public service for most of the 26 years he’s lived in Homer. He’s served on the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission, the McNeil Canyon Elementary School Site Council and the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizens Advisory Board. When his daughter Jenny, now 25, was 8, she had a brain hemorrhage and had to go through years of rehabilitation. Dunne also has had a few emergency room visits himself.
That made him appreciate borough services, he said.
“I’m really grateful for the borough hospitals. Both my daughter’s life and my life were saved by the hospital,” Dunne said. “I’m at a point in my life where I have time to give back. I can participate and represent the citizens and give back for all the great opportunities I’ve had in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.”
Born in Mineola, N.Y., on Long Island, Dunne grew up in New Egypt, N.J., , a small farming town in the Pine Barrens. Both his parents were school teachers and they moved to the country so the family could enjoy small town life and the outdoors. Dunne graduated with a bachelor of science in natural resource management from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.
He worked a variety of seasonal jobs as a naturalist and scientist before taking a job in 1982 as a tour-bus driver in Denali National Park. In the off season he continued doing scientific research around the country. In 1987 he and his first wife, Laura Patty, moved to Homer, building a cabin near Mile 11 East End Road. Dunne now lives with his wife, Janice Higbee, on Waterman Road near Mile 3 East End Road.
In Homer, Dunne first worked as a commercial fisherman in the grueling 24-hour halibut longline openings. After his daughter was born, he got a full-time job as a park ranger with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. In 1997 he started working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He now does fisheries research for pretty much every species that’s not salmon, including halibut.
Slaughter was born in Anchorage and moved to Anchor Point at 5, living near Mile 3 North Fork Road. After high school, Slaughter took some online courses through the University of Alaska, but decided it wasn’t for him.
“I said ‘No, I’ll work.’ I’ve got that entrepreneur spirit,” he said.
With his father, Slaughter works at Useful Things, an Anchor Point pawn shop. He now runs AP Mini Store, a counter at the store selling new items. Slaughter also operates three automatic teller machines, two in Anchor Point and one in Homer. He and his wife Krizzie remodeled and live in a 1950s log cabin on the Anchor River upriver from the Anchor River Inn.
Slaughter decided to run because he got tired of the status quo.
“I just didn’t feel we were represented enough,” he said of Anchor Point. “I wanted someone who could bring our thoughts and ideas forward and not just his own.”
Dunne said he sees the role of borough government as being the government of unincorporated areas of District 9.
“The borough government is our chance to participate in how we shape our lives and our lifestyles,” he said.
The borough provides services like public education, roads, solid waste disposal, emergency medical services and hospitals.
“Those are all things I think are very necessary in order to have healthy families, a healthy place to live,” Dunne said.
Slaughter agreed that the borough should provide those basic services — except hospitals.
“I don’t think the borough needs to be in the health-care business,” Slaughter said.
Discussions about privatizing hospitals and clinics would be good to bring up again, he said.
“If we had free enterprise and competition, the prices would go down,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter also said the role of borough government should be minimal, with less regulation.
“We’re already regulated to the top with the feds and the state,” he said. “Let the free market go and let businesses prosper and stop regulating them to death.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.