Chamber hosts cordial meet-and-greet for local House candidates

Thursday, August 9, 2018 - 10:54

Nearly every person running for local political office showed up for a candidates’ forum last week in Eagle River for a fast and furious introduction to the community.

“It’s going to be like a speed round,” promised chamber treasurer Julie Estey, who served as emcee of the chamber’s Aug. 1 lunch forum at the Eagle River Ale House.

True to form, the event cycled through brief answers from each of the nine State House candidates vying for seats in District 12, 13 and 14, with chamber executive director Debbie Rinckey holding speakers to a strict two-minute time limit for candidates’ answers.

On hand for the event were District 12 candidates Stephan Jeffers and Cathy Tilton; District 13 hopefuls Craig Christenson, Bill Cook, Nancy Dahlstrom and Danyelle Kimp; and District 14 candidates Joe Hackenmueller, Eugene Harnett and Kelly Merrick. Jeffers, Kimp and Hackenmueller are nonpartisan candidates running in the Democratic primary, while the others are running as Republicans in that party’s primary.

Although the forum was only for House candidates, two of the three people running for State Senate Seat G — Dan Saddler and Oliver Schiess — also attended the event as audience members. The only local candidates not in attendance were House District 14 candidate Jamie Allard and Senate hopeful Lora Reinbold.

The House forum was an informal affair, with candidates taking turns telling the audience a little bit about themselves before answering one question posed by the chamber. During their introductions, each of the nine candidates in attendance touted their ties to the local community and laid out their case for election.

District 14 candidates went first, and Merrick told the chamber she’s got a business administration degree and has been a stay-at-home mom, but now wants to give back to the community.

“I think we need someone in Juneau with a positive attitude and a can-do attitude,” she said.

Harnett touted strong family values, which he said he’ll bring with him to Juneau if elected.

“My values come from my family where we learned accountability and trust and those things are needed in government as well,” he said.

Hackenmueller said he’s “happily retired” from a career in the oil and gas field and decided to run for office out of a desire to help build Alaska’s future.

“I’m in it for my kids, grandkids and the next couple generations,” he said.

District 13 candidate Kimp said he’s an Army veteran who moved to Alaska in 2013 and decided to make the area his home after getting his first look at the Chugach Mountains.

“That was all it took for me and my family to call it home,” he said.

Kimp said his top priority if elected will be education.

“Our kids deserve the best,” he said.

Dahlstrom is a former legislator who touted her experience and work ethic, saying she has a “proven record of making promises and keeping promises.”

“I love bringing people together, coming to a consensus and solving problems that are important to all of us,” she said.

Attorney Bill Cook said he’s running on a law-and-order platform and said his experience as a former assistant district attorney gives him the right perspective on the criminal justice system to be an effective legislator. Cook said he’s strongly against the SB 91 crime bill.

“It’s working — it’s working for criminals,” he said of the bill, which was designed to reduce incarceration rates but which many Alaskans blame for increases in property crime.

A former Air Force colonel and physician, Christenson said his experience with health care and the military will help him in Juneau, where he thinks spending is out of line.

“The budget’s way too high,” said Christenson, who said he’d like to see the legislative session moved from Juneau and SB 91 repealed.

District 12 candidate Jeffers said she’s a lifelong local who received a master’s degree from UAA before becoming an acrobatics instructor.

“I now live one exit from where I grew up,” she said.

Jeffers said she ran because she wanted to give voters another option besides incumbent Cathy Tilton.

“I’m running so you have a choice,” she said.

For her part, Tilton said she’s been a strong voice for the area and touted her record by saying she was against SB 91 from the start. Tilton promised voters she’ll listen to their opinions and work to serve the entire community.

“You represent everybody,” she said.

There was time for one question for each candidate, and Rinckey asked each what specifically they would to to serve the Chugiak-Eagle River area.

Tilton said she’d like to see fewer government regulations and a statewide vote on a constitutional spending limit. Getting the economy back on track, she said, will be a big step toward reducing the state’s other problems.

“Once we find people jobs, some of our crime will be reduced,” she said.

Jeffers said she wants to see less reliance on oil and gas.

“We need to invest in renewable energy,” she said.

Jeffers would like to see more innovative approaches to solving the crime issue.

“We need to re-look at how we are approaching crime,” she said.

Christenson also said he’s against regulation and promised to be an independent voice for the community.

“I am not going to join a caucus that tells me I have to vote for a budget I haven’t even seen,” he said.

Cook stressed the public safety angle, quoting Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero by saying “the safety of the people should be the highest law,” and blaming politicians for an increase in crime.

“We’ve been betrayed by the Legislature,” he said.

Dahlstrom also said law and order will be a priority, and said her vision for Alaska includes safe streets, a good economy, healthy places for kids, strong public safety and more police officers for Chugiak-Eagle River.

Kimp said he wants to build consensus in Juneau, and is tired of watching partisan politicians bickering across the aisle.

“What kind of an example are they setting for everyone else?” he asked.

Hackenmueller said he’ll listen to constituents and promised to listen to all. He said the best way to help the local community is to get Alaska’s economy going in the right direction.

“What’s good for Alaska is going to be good for Eagle River,” he said.

Harnett said he’d like to address the root causes of crime and wants more done to address drugs. He suggested faith-based initiatives might work and said he thinks the faith community could play a role in getting people out of a life of substance abuse and he’d like to help faciliate those partnerships.

“One of the fortes I have is to bring people together and that’s what I want to do,” he said.

Merrick said crime is her top priority.

“It has migrated from Anchorage to Eagle River and people are fed up,” said Merrick, who added that “infrastructure and jobs are also really important.”

Following the forum, Estey thanked the candidates for participating and said she was impressed with the quality of answers from each.

“I think we can all agree we’re really lucky to have this quality of candidates,” she said.

Estey said voters have their work cut out for them when it comes to picking winners in the Aug. 21 primaries.

“It’s going to be a really hard choice,” she said.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected from a previous version, which misstated Christenson’s occupation in the Army and also incorrectly stated he wants the legislative session moved to Juneau; the session is currently held in Juneau, Christenson wants it moved from there to Anchorage.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

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