Ahead of the November general election, the Homer News conducted interviews with incumbent Alaska House of Representatives District 31 Rep. Paul Seaton and newcomer Sarah Vance, of the Republican Party.
Seaton is running as a nonpartisan candidate on the Democratic Party ticket. He and Vance were asked the same questions, as well as follow up questions for clarification.
Question: What do you see as the role of the District 31 Representative?
Answer: “My personal philosophy is there are a number of areas to cover. First of all, there’s representing constituents and their interactions with the agencies of state government. And it’s not to interfere with that, but to make sure the conversation goes forward in a timely manner and that the issues that are being brought forward are reasonably addressed.
“We can direct, as representatives, the administration, but we can sure make sure that they are adequately addressing the issues that are brought forward.”
Q: So a lot of interaction with constituents?
A: “Yeah, a lot of interaction with constituents. I think that people generally say that my office is one of the most responsive offices in the entire Legislature. We always answer all the emails and those kind of issues that people are having. It doesn’t mean we can always satisfy the person, but we can sure make it so they are getting a correct and adequate response.”
Q: And you said there’s a couple different things?
A: “That’s the first thing, and then after that would be responding to the problems of the state and actually proposing solutions. I’ve always worked very hard on trying to develop solutions that can go forward, and get those through passed as bills or as ways to encourage the agencies of the government to address those concerns.”
“… I sponsor bills when they are bills that are good. I don’t co-sponsor a lot, because a co-sponsor becomes — you’re going to vote on the issue, and sometimes people co-sponsor something early and then it changes along the way, and so to me it’s better to make sure you work on those issues. And whether you’re the sponsor of a bill or the co-sponsor of a bill, it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re working for finding solutions.”
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: “Well I’ve always been in the majority. I work with everyone that wants to work on solutions for Alaska. And so I’m now a nonpartisan, and I’m willing to work in the most effective way to get the problem solved. The reason that I became a nonpartisan was exactly that, was that some people were not acting on the solutions for Alaska’s problems but were just working on philosophical alignment with parties, and those don’t necessarily move Alaska forward.”
Q: Will your votes be dictated by the caucus leadership or will you put the concerns of the district first?
A: “Well I always put the concerns of the district first. I think people have known for the last 16 years that I’ve been an independent voice within the caucus, within the majority.
“There’s always been the understanding that individuals can take any position that represents their constituents, and so the constituents in the Southern Kenai Peninsula are often different than those of other areas of the state. … If you look at my voting record, you’ll see that I am much more aligned with the citizens instead of just with the parties.”
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 think that we’ve cut the budget significantly in the past, we’ve supported efficiencies in government. We’ve gotten to the point where citizens are now telling us that cuts have been too deep, whether it’s public education or whether it’s public safety. You look at the 74 percent reduction in the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development, and people are saying that we, that further cuts will not be helpful to the lives of citizens across our state.
“So, I think that we made the cuts that are possible without negatively affecting the Alaska as we want to live in it. And so, I have proposed in the past that we get new revenues. I’m definitely on track with changing the oil tax. We are currently getting the lowest percentage in the history of our state on (oil) taxes, and … most citizens don’t realize that they are paying 35 percent of all the expenditures made by the oil companies on North Slope by these credits.
“There are two kinds of credits: cashable credits and deductible credits. And so the big four, Conoco(Phillips), BP, Exxon(Mobil) and Hilcorp, producing over 50,000 barrels a day each, that’s where the money really is. And they are still taking 35 percent credit and subtracting that from what they would pay in taxes, and so that means residents are paying 35 percent of every dollar that’s paid on the North Slope, and that’s the big reason why the taxes are so low. And that really needs to be revised.
“Also, we need a broad-based tax so that citizens, not just citizens are involved, but it will involve citizens, involve much more in the government with a broad-based tax. My analysis is an income tax is the most fair across the state, that’s progressive income tax.”
Q: Because that catches people who don’t live here but work here?
A: “Yes. There’s about $2.5 billion dollars worth of wages that are not taxed here but are taxed in the states from which they come. And the income tax is paid there instead of to us to support the services that are needed here.”
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 try to engage all citizens in the state, always have. You know, I’m doing radio ads. All of my radio ads are positive, saying what we have done, and I intend to continue representing the constituents of the lower Kenai Peninsula.
“The mailers are going out to many people across the district, as well as Homer News ads. But attacking other people is not proposing solutions for the state, so I avoid that.”
Q: Other than radio and mailers, how do you reach out to people who you know aren’t really in your base (of voters)?
A: “Well I’m door-knocking. I go to meetings all over the district, but that’s not just during the campaign. I think people recognize that I’m very involved in the communities up and down the peninsula, presenting to, whether it’s the borough assembly or the school boards, or whether it’s the nonpolitical kind of things. Like today (Oct. 12) I’m at the Senior Center and they’re talking about Alzheimer’s health care.
“… I think it’s just imperative to get that broad-based understanding by engaging with that as well as the nonprofits that are very prolific in our community and supply such a broad and needed services.”
The Alaska general election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.