This week, the Homer News starts its coverage of the District 31 House of Representatives election between incumbent and nonpartisan Rep. Paul Seaton and Republican Party candidate Sarah Vance. We begin with a Q & A with each candidate; both candidates were asked the same questions.
For the Oct. 25 issue, we will cover a candidate form with Seaton and Vance to be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Homer Public Library. Also in the Oct. 25 issue, each candidate has been offered the chance to write a Point of View opinion piece.
The race between Seaton and Vance has similarities to when Seaton himself ran and defeated former Rep. Drew Scalzi in 2002. Like Vance, Seaton was a political newcomer opposing a veteran politician who had tried to address Alaska’s fiscal issues. Like Seaton now, Scalzi had joined a bipartisan group that looked at how to cover budget deficits with solutions like a personal income tax.
But the similarity only goes so far. Seaton beat Scalzi in the Republican Party, but in this election, Seaton runs as a nonpartisan candidate under the Democratic Party ticket. Facing opposition from Republicans who felt betrayed that Seaton had joined a bipartisan and independent House majority, Seaton stayed out of the primary and chose to face the winner in the general election. Scalzi was a one-term incumbent, but Seaton has defeated both Republican and Democratic Party challengers alike and won eight consecutive terms. With strong support from both District 31 and state party leadership, Vance seeks to return the District 31 seat to the Republican Party.
Seaton remains a formidable opponent. Though she raised about $27,000 this election, Vance has about $7,000 left to spend. Seaton has raised about $80,000 and has $25,000 still to spend.
In a phone interview on Monday, Oct. 15, Vance first spoke of how her campaign has been going.
“I’ve been getting out,” she said. “Just getting to know the people of our district and getting people engaged has been really good — connecting the dots, seeing people in the community get more involved as far as like the community crime watch meetings that are emerging.”
“It’s going well,” she said of her campaign. “It’s been a lot of fun. I Iook back and can’t believe I’ve been doing this kind of all year. I was slow and steady in the beginning, just getting my name out there.”
“…It’s been such a great opportunity to get to know the people of our district and to learn and grow on what it means to be an Alaska,” Vance continued. “Just seeing things from a different perspective has been wonderful. I look forward to more to more of that.”
Question: What do you see as the role of the District 31 Representative?
Answer: “The role is to represent the needs of the people at the state level. I look at as a job description, not a title. That’s the perspective I began this campaign. I work for you, you tell me what your priorities are for our district. What do you see as the needs, what I should be looking into and talking about?”
Q: Depending on the statewide election results, the District 31 Representative will caucus with either a majority or minority caucus. In either scenario, how do you see yourself working with the caucus as well as the House in general?
A: “Regardless of what happens whether I’m in the majority or the minority does not change my role as a rep of the people of district 31. I will represent them to the best of my ability. That’s not dependent on being in the majority or the minority.
“One mindset I have is not to feel like I’m in a position to have to beg for the crumbs from the table.
“I believe that every elected official comes into Legislature at the same level. They were voted in by their constituents. Whether a majority or minority, we all carry the same weight and we should approach each other with that same respect, because the voters put them there as their leader.
“I think that level of respect regardless off party regardless of majority or minority will create an avenue of respect and trust where we can work together for what’s best for Alaska.”
Q: Will your votes be dictated by the caucus leadership or will you put the concerns of the district first?
A: “Absolutely the district.”
Q: If future budgets require deep cuts to existing state services and programs, name three hard cuts you would propose or support to balance the budget. If you are not willing to support those cuts, how would you find the revenue to continue those programs?
A: “I have not thought about any specific areas to cut because we need essential services. We’ve made it clear as Alaskans that services provided are vital to us.
“What I would like to look at is the efficiencies and the waste on how we can save money to keep those services. … I did find through some of my research that there was a bill proposed in committee called The Alaska Cares. That was to combine the school health insurance programs, to consolidate that. That would have saved us millions. I need to confirm the number; it could be close to a hundred of millions. It’s safe to say millions of dollars. It wouldn’t have affected the classrooms; it wouldn’t have affected the bus schedules or anything like that. It would have helped save money just by putting the health insurance into a larger pot rather than the separate 54 school districts.
“That was opposed in committee by a certain school district. It became a political issue rather than a financial issue. I don’t know what all that entails, but I’d like to move past some of these political footballs and get to some of the cost savings that is going to benefit every Alaskans.”
Q: If it came down to it, though, if we’re going to have to make some really deep cuts, we’re talking billions of dollars, would you see yourself in a situation where the cuts were so deep it was time to look for new revenues with things like a personal income tax, a state sales tax, raising oil taxes, something like that? Do you envisions that scenario?
A: “Should we look to new revenues? Absolutely. I think we should diversify our revenues because that’s wise financial management. But I do not include income tax or sales tax in that scenario. I do think we need to focus on building a strong economy, stabilizing our budget, cutting control of our spending, and inviting industries back to Alaska. When we create a stable environment, the economy is going to flourish. When we help Alaskans flourish by building a strong economy, the state of Alaska will flourish as well. That doesn’t need to include a state income tax or sales.”
Q: What is your strategy for winning this election? Reaching out to your political base and hoping to get sufficient turnout to win? Reaching out to all voters, including swing voters? Something else? Why?
A: “I’m reaching out to every Alaskan voter who wants to see Alaska prosper and succeed. I want good things for Alaska. This is my home, and I’m not going to exclude anyone from the possibility of helping talk about our future together.
“When I get elected I’m not just going to represent the voters, the people who vote me in. I will represent every voter in this district. I take that seriously, that I don’t want to exclude anyone’s voice in this process.
“The issues I have been talking about and running on are Alaska issues. They are not Republican … They affect every Alaskan. That’s what I want to do, give representation to every Alaskan.
“… Yes I’m a Republican … That’s not what I’m about. I expect to be a catalyst for change and make things better for all of us and not toeing the party line. I’m an Alaskan first. I know that’s a big concern for people.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.