On a blue bird day with American flags waving in the breeze, Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) kicked off her re-election campaign on Sunday at Karen Hornaday Park.
Advertised on Facebook as a “COVID-free” event, the ice cream social was held on Flag Day. Volunteers served hand-dipped ice cream in cones.The rally featured dozens of U.S. flags and a few Trump 2020 flags. According to volunteer Eileen Becker’s count, about 125 attended at the peak of the event. One man showed up to the park to protest the event by carrying a sign that read “Stupid is as stupid does … COVID-19 is not B.S.”
Before she spoke, Vance gained praise from several fellow Republican Party House Minority members.
“Talk about team work. It’s been a challenging two years because of the lack of team work in our own party, in the own people we can trust, ” said Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Nikiski). “There’s one person I knew I could trust more than anyone else. That was Sarah. … You’ve got a very good choice of representative here. I’m glad you recognize what you’ve got.”
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla) also lauded Vance.
“We in the Mat-Su Valley really love our peninsula friends, and you know it,” Sullivan-Leonard said. “You know what freedom is about. You know what the conservative cause (is) we’re working toward. Sarah — Sarah, she’s one of the most tenacious colleagues I’ve ever worked with. She’s not afraid to stand up on that House floor and tell you what’s right.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, who also is running for re-election, also spoke for Sarah as well as about the economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re social distancing,” he said to the crowd, which elicited laughter. “There’s businesses that are going to go broke, that are going to file for bankruptcy. They’re all going to hurt.”
Those businesses that are in financial trouble are essential, Pierce said.
“The other thing that’s essential is who we send to Juneau,” he said. “… In Juneau there was the minority. … What they told you was they will stand on the principles that they ran on. … (Vance) stands on the principles. She doesn’t have a personal agenda and she’s looking for positive results.”
Volunteer Cassie Lawver introduced Vance.
“She is our voice in Juneau,” Lawver said. “… She is our PFD defender. … She follows the laws and our Constitution. There’s so much Sarah has done in Juneau, but she’s not finished. District 31 needs her.”
To frequent whoops and applause, Vance spoke.
“I stand here proudly representing you. I want you to know how much I love this job,” she said. “Being able to speak for you, to know I’m taking your values and your priorities to Juneau is well worth the trouble, all the sacrifice.”
Vance said that when she ran for office two years ago against longtime incumbent Paul Seaton, she asked voters what her priorities should be.
“You said you wanted stronger crime laws, you wanted to get rid of SB (Senate Bill) 91 that was soft on crime. We did that,” she said. “You said no to a state income tax, and we’ve been able to hold it off. You said you wanted me to work to restore and fight for your PFD. We’re still working on that battle.”
Vance said she would stay honest.
“One of the first questions that I was asked on the campaign trail two years ago was, ‘Are you going to be a turncoat or are you going to turn out to be a liar like everybody else?’ Y’all weren’t easy on me,” she said. “I will tell you: I will keep my word. I will do what I tell you I am going to do, and I take a beating for it, but I’m going to prove to you that I will do what you elected me to do.”
In her Vote Sarah Vance Facebook page announcing the campaign kick-off, Vance described it as “a Covid-Free event where people are free to wear a mask, free to distance or free to whatever you are comfortable with.” Fewer than 10 people wore face coverings at the event. One man wore a “Trump 2020” face mask. Large outdoor gatherings of less than 500 people are allowed according to the state’s Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan.
The plan reads, “Of note, large events pose greater risk of spread of COVID 19.” It refers to Centers for Disease Control guidelines for large gatherings.
The man who protested, Greg Sutter, walked around the periphery of the public park wearing a respirator and holding a sign that read “Stupid is as stupid does,” a quote from the movie, “Forrest Gump,” and “COVID-19 is not B.S.” and “Jesus loves you.” In a phone interview on Tuesday, Sutter said most people at Vance’s rally were cordial, with many offering him hugs or ice cream.
A halibut and sport fish charter captain, Sutter said he had self interest in mind for why he protested against what he saw as an unsafe gathering.
“If this virus spreads and we hit a certain level of occupancy in the hospital, we will be shut down,” Sutter said. “… If we do the right thing to help prevent the spread of the virus, that’s going to increase the likelihood I can do what little I can to salvage the season.”
Vance faces no opposition in the August primary election for the Republican Party nomination. Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Kelly Cooper is running as an independent against Vance in the general election.