Stevens back on ballot for Homer area

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, was in Homer last week to meet with voters of the recently formed Senate District P, a product of redistricting. While the district’s boundaries may be new — they encompass House Districts 31 and 32, including the southern Kenai Peninsula and stretching southwest to Kodiak and southeast to Prince William Sound — Stevens is a familiar face. He represented the southern peninsula until 2012.

“The district has a lot more in common,” said Stevens of District P. “From Kodiak through Homer, including Seldovia, and into the Prince William Sound area it’s all coastal, all fisheries-oriented.”

Stevens served in the House of Representatives from 2001-2003. He has served in the Senate since then and was Senate President from 2009-2012. Of the long list of committees on which he has served, Stevens’ most recent assignments include the World Trade Committee, the Legislative Council Joint Committee and the Education Committee. 

“Education is right down my alley,” said Stevens, retired after 25 years as a University of Alaska professor of history and communications. 

He emphasized the importance of early education, specifically pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, reading and the  pupil-to-teacher ratio.

Although Alaska has not accepted “Common Core,” an initiative that sets nationwide standards for language and math, the state has developed its own version that attempts to address specific state needs. 

“The reason to have standards is to make sure kids who graduate from high school in Alaska are capable of being competitive with anyone else anywhere in the world, making sure our kids are ready to go out to college or the job market and are up to speed.” 

Fisheries are another area of importance to Stevens. His personal involvement with Alaska fisheries began in 1970, when he came to Alaska to work at Northern Processors, a seafood processing company owned by his family in Old Harbor. 

After being elected to the House, Stevens was appointed to co-chair the Alaska Salmon Task Force and distributed funds the late Sen. Ted Stevens, not a relative, secured for the state’s fisheries. 

“That money helped fishermen replace engines, helped processors purchase new equipment to process salmon in a different way,” said Stevens.

“A lot went more toward filleting fish, freezing them and selling them that way.”

Now, Stevens said the need is to ensure funding for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

“A lot of our product goes to Europe and Asia. It’s important that marketing is maintained,” he said. 

Asked about the Nov. 4 ballot measures, Stevens was quick to say he has “one vote like everyone else. My vote is no more important than anyone else.”

With regard to the ballot measure to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana, Stevens said, “I understand that it is probably going to pass, but I’m really concerned about it. I wish we could delay it for a couple of years and see how it works in Washington and Colorado.”

He added, however, that if the public votes in favor of the measure, “it’ll be the law and then it’s our responsibility as legislators to figure out how it works.”

Raising the minimum wage is another measure Stevens believes will pass. He recognizes the challenge for people entering jobs that don’t pay enough to support a family, but also is aware employers, such as seafood processors, are concerned about the additional costs of doing business.  

With regard to the ballot measure addressing development of the Pebble mine by requiring the Legislature to approve future large-scale metallic sulfide mines in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, Stevens said he has “always been very concerned about what would happen if a mine developed there. I personally don’t see how you can develop an open-pit mine and not have an impact on water quality and salmon.” He will vote yes on that ballot measure. 

In August, voters turned down an attempt to repeal Senate Bill 21, Gov. Sean Parnell’s effort to increase oil production and investment dollars in Alaska’s oil industry. As a result, Stevens predicted the state might have some challenging times.

“The public voted and all we can do and hope to heaven it works,” said Stevens.

“We won’t know for a long time. Will it lead to more production, more wells, more investment by big oil? All we can do is hope it will.” 

Visiting Homer was an opportunity for Stevens to view changes that have occurred since he represented the southern peninsula. In particular, he noted work being done at the harbor that includes replacement of float, construction of a new harbormaster office and development of a vessel haul-out area.

“If you live in Homer and are here every day, you don’t see the multitude of changes that have happened in four, five years. But if you take the time to think about it, there are some big changes,” said Stevens.

“It’s fun to come back and see the fruition of things that started when I was representing Homer. I really enjoy it here. It’s a wonderful community.”

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