As the November General Election draws nearer next Tuesday, Nov. 6, local candidates are ramping up their public appearances and campaign spending. Alaska House of Representatives District 31 hopefuls Sarah Vance and incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton gave an overview of their beliefs on a number of topics at a forum last month.
The two spoke to a crowded room at the Homer Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 20. Hosted by the Friends of the Homer Library, the forum was moderated by board member Sean Campbell, who took time to note that it was “a forum, not a debate.”
Vance is running as the Republican Party candidate. A former Republican, Seaton is now nonpartisan and is running under the Democratic Party ticket.
After opening statements, Vance and Seaton answered prepared questions and those written down by audience members.
Early in the forum, the candidates fielded a question about development and, specifically, the Pebble Mine project.
“I think the Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” Seaton said.
Vance didn’t say specifically whether she supports the project or not, but she spoke in favor of the current permitting process for both Pebble and development projects in the state in general. Vance said she will be voting “no” when it comes to the “Stand for Salmon” ballot initiative, Ballot Measure 1, which seeks to strengthen the existing law governing development as it’s related to Alaska’s anadromous streams.
“I think that comes down to the idea of stewardship,” Vance said when asked about development. “Stewardship was one of the very first principles that I learned, and maintaining and taking care of the earth that we have, but also anything that is given to our hand. It doesn’t just amount to natural resources, but anything that we are given, we are meant to steward it.”
Vance said stewardship can be applied to any industry from fishing to natural resources. To her, pro-development means taking care of those resources and multiplying them, she said.
Seaton said he supports Ballot Measure 1.
“I consider myself pro-development, and that means that I am in favor of improving our economy,” Seaton said. “But it’s got to be done in a sustainable manner. …One of the things that is necessary if you want to do things right is to plan all of the consequences and take those into consideration up front; that’s the permitting process.”
When speaking to resource development, Seaton said the Stand for Salmon initiative is something that could help.
“I believe every project developer should know what the standards are they need to design their project for,” he said. “Right now we have a very amorphous thing that just says … the commissioner is going to protect fish. So that’s a political decision, and a project developer really doesn’t have standards and guidelines to design their project on.”
Another topic the candidates and questions labored upon was crime, and how to deal with it in the state. Vance said she is in favor of repealing Senate Bill 91, the sweeping crime reform bill that aimed to save the state money and to reduce Alaska’s two-thirds recidivism rate. After issues with the original iteration surfaced, the bill was revised three times.
“There’s a lot that’s not working,” Vance said. “We had intended it to do one thing, but clearly it’s doing another.”
While he admitted the original bill caused issues in the public safety sector, Seaton cautioned against repealing the entire thing. Part of SB91 had allocated funding for more state positions in treatment and other areas of criminal justice. Repealing SB91 would also repeal the funding for those added positions, he said.
Seaton also noted that the Anchorage Police Department, which originally was against the bill, no longer wants it repealed.
Both candidates acknowledged the rising cost of health care in Alaska to be a major problem. Vance advocated for creating accountability and transparency in the state’s medical centers, and also for taking a look at the federal reimbursement rate.
Seaton noted that the Alaska House did pass a transparency bill that requires medical facilities to detail the prices of various procedures and services. He said this is aimed to create more competition in the health care industry, which would be a good thing.
When it came to Alaska’s budget, however, the candidates were not in agreement. Seaton advocated for reforming the state’s oil and gas taxes, as well a changing oil tax credits.
“It makes no sense at all when they’re paying an 8-percent tax at $65 per barrel, 15-percent tax at $75 per barrel, but we give them (the oil companies) a tax credit of 35 percent on all their expenses no matter what the price is,” he said. “So we need to change oil taxes; we need a broad-based tax across the state. People need to pay for something.”
Vance is in favor of restoring the Permanent Fund Dividend to its original formula, and sees government spending as an area to cut back on expenses.
“We took in $2.5 billion in revenue last year but we spent $4.6 billion. Clearly we’re going in the wrong direction,” she said. “And we don’t need to simply fill that gap, we need to close that gap. … My question to you is ‘How much is enough?’ Clearly we’re not doing things as efficiently as we could.”