Democrat Rep. Sam Kito III and Republican Peter Dukowitz are vying to represent downtown Juneau and Douglas in the Alaska House of Representatives. But both seemed a little hazy on the issues as they attempted to answer questions from the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and the public at the Chamber’s Thursday luncheon.
Chamber President-elect Lance Stevens posed about 20 questions to the two candidates, who each had 30 seconds or a minute to answer each one. He asked Kito and Dukowitz to explain their stances on the upcoming ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
“At this point, I haven’t made up my mind,” Kito said. He said he had concerns about how cities and law enforcement would deal with “impaired” people driving under the influence of marijuana.
Dukowitz said he “grew up in the ‘80s when it was legal.”
“I’m okay with marijuana being passed like in the ‘80s,” he said, calling himself “liberal” on the issue.
When Stevens asked about K-12 teacher tenure, and how it would impact the quality of education in Alaska’s public schools, it was Dukowitz’s turn to blank. He said his No. 1 priority is the school system, but failed to talk about teacher tenure.
Kito supports K-12 teacher tenure and called it “a valuable tool districts have and teachers have” to ensure districts remain attractive to potential employees and have “adequate teachers and retention.”
Both candidates were unable to list items in the state budget they would cut or whittle down. They were also asked to list their two biggest funding priorities. Dukowitz only said education: “anything else should follow that.” Kito listed education and public safety.
Dukowitz and Kito were able to provide answers to other questions. Stevens told the two that the Chamber had come out in opposition to the ballot measure to raise Alaska’s minimum wage. He asked how they stand on the issue.
Kito said he supports it because there are a lot of adults with one, two or three minimum-wage jobs trying to raise families. The more minimum-wage workers earn, “the more they can contribute to the economy, the more they can spend in the economy,” he said.
Dukowitz said he believes the opposite.
“The minimum wage is not meant to live off of,” he said. “It’s for college kids coming into the (workforce).”
He said a raise in the minimum wage would be too much a burden on Alaska’s businesses.
“If you tax businesses too much, they go away,” Dukowitz said. “If you tax people too much, they go away.”
They also took opposite stances on the Juneau Access Project, colloquially referred to as “the Road.” The Road was recently included in the Alaska Department of Transportation’s 20-year plan for Southeast Alaska and is slated to cost about $523 million.
Kito said he’s worried the state can’t afford “funding a bunch of big projects” like the Juneau Access Project. He asked the Chamber attendees to look at the Alaska Marine Highway System as a more cost-effective option.
“We’ve still go two ferries that will still have to run Lynn Canal whether they stop in Juneau or not,” he said.
Dukowitz said he “fully support(s) the Road” and said the state will save money in the long-term by building it.
“I think it’ll be great for Haines,” he said. He said building the Road will grow Haines’ hotel and restaurant industry.
They also differed on funding pre-K education. Advocates for pre-K education argue that it prepares students for the school system by giving them a head start on reading and other essential skills.
“The question is, do we support pre-K or do we support our graduates?” Dukowitz said. He said he would fund pre-K schooling if there was money for it, but he would rather focus on educating high school students.
Pre-K education is “one area if we don’t have the money will probably get cut,” he said.
Kito said he is a “strong supporter of pre-K education,” which he said ensures students “have all the tools necessary to compete.”
In closing, Dukowitz said he “had a long night” and apologized for not being in peak form. Kito welcomed attendees to talk to him after the event.
“The issues aren’t concrete,” he said. “My positions grow and evolve over time.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.