Editor’s note: Juneau’s newly-appointed representative to House District 32, Sam Kito III, sat down with the Juneau Empire on Friday, Feb. 23. The interview has been edited for length.
Juneau’s newest representative to the Alaska House of Representatives, lifelong Alaskan Sam Kito III, is bringing a bevy of experience from across the state with him to the House of Representatives.
Kito spent his elementary years growing up in Fairbanks before moving to Anchorage for his middle and high school education.
Prior to his most recent lobbying and engineering contract work, Kito worked for the state Department of Transportation and for the City and Borough of Juneau.
Some of Kito’s work experience that doesn’t necessarily show up on his resume includes construction work on the North Slope and commercial fishing in Petersburg.
During the press conference announcing Kito’s appointment Friday, Gov. Sean Parnell pointed to Kito’s ability to relate and identify with the residents of House District 32 as one of the central reasons for selecting him as former minority leader Rep. Beth Kerttula’s replacement.
Following his graduation from East High School in Anchorage, Kito spent two years at Colorado State University before moving back to Anchorage to finish his schooling at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Kito sat down with the Juneau Empire on Friday to discuss the issues now before him, should his nomination be confirmed by House Democrats on Monday.
Q: There is going to be some concern, naturally, that a lobbyist may have conflicted interests when stepping into the Representative side. How do you reconcile that?
A: I don’t know, as a lobbyist, that I would have more conflict than somebody working at a private company that would come in to work at the legislature, then have to recuse themself or ask to be recused on a vote that would impact their industry or their company.
Q: What’s your opinion on school vouchers?
A: I oppose school vouchers. The public school system is a great system. It’s not perfect, but we need to really work on making the public school system better. I have a problem with public money going someplace where the Legislature doesn’t have strong oversight over it, which would be in the private sector. I don’t have a problem with private education, but for me, it’s a choice that if people desire to do that, they should do that — but they shouldn’t be doing that with public money.
Q: What about concealed carry on campus?
A: I have concerns with handguns and semi-automatic weapons. I am a full supporter of being able to have weapons for self-defense, for hunting. I am fully in support of the Second Amendment, but, at times, I believe it gets taken too far. Without proper education, carrying a weapon concealed can increase the tension in an argument ... I’d have a concern about it. I don’t think I would be able to support something like that.
Q: You mentioned the Juneau Road is workable — it can be done. Do you think it should be done?
A: From an engineering perspective, it’s definitely feasible. From a fiscal perspective, I have a concern and I don’t know what all the numbers are. If there were a revenue-neutral solution where the road could be built and we don’t have to add general fund that is not available at this time, then I think it would be a good idea. Being a resident of Juneau, having a direct link to Skagway and up to Canada can be a positive thing, but I know there are a lot of concerns about the project. So I have to respect the concerns about the project cost and environmental concerns.
Q: If you disagree with an issue but you get overwhelming support from the district saying, “We want this,” how do you vote?
A: Those things have to be taken on an issue-by-issue basis. What is the importance? My primary goal is to protect the public health, protect public safety, if I believe there are challenges to public health, public safety, then I would have to look at the issue really closely.
Q: The most controversial thing in the state right now is SB21. What is your stance on the More Alaska Production Act?
A: I don’t know all the details. I do know I have concerns we’re giving money away in a time we’re seeing declining budgets. I really need to take a closer look at it, but, at this point, I don’t believe (SB21) was the best way to move forward, but I didn’t have a chance to vote on it. Regarding the referendum ... at this point, I am personally in favor of repealing SB21, and most of that is reading what the circumstances are in the news and the concern that when we get into it there is a possibility of a decline in revenue to the state of Alaska without a strong guarantee that there is going to be an increase in revenue from an increase in production.
Q: How much of a priority would something like a $580,000 request from the Juneau School District for new curriculum be for you, considering it isn’t a priority for the rest of the state?
A: It’s extremely important to be able to support the schools. All of that has to be balanced, but I would support getting more money into the Juneau schools. There are different ways to try and get the money in there. I would support that just as much as I know the Anchorage legislators would support trying to get increases in their budgets to try and get back some of the teachers who are being let go this year.
Q: Regarding base student allocation funding, the governor’s idea was $201 over three years. The Democrats on Thursday came out with a different proposal — about $400 in one year. Which way do you think it should lean and why?
A: We’ve been flat too long on the BSA. I understand the governor’s challenge in trying to balance the budget ... but I think our students’ education shouldn’t be compromised. There’s some talk about supporting an automatic increase in the BSA. I am a little reluctant to support that level, but I do support larger increases than what’s proposed by the governor. I know they’re running thin on teachers and I worry about increasing class size. Being flat-funded for four years is more than saying we’re going to hold the status quo. Inflation costs means it’s actually a net-budget decrease each year.
Q: What about cutting the high school exit exam?
A: I have no problem with that. Especially with the experience with my daughter, they spend a lot of time testing. I think testing is important to measure growth, but when they spend a lot of time testing, they’re not in the classroom learning.
Q: Where do you stand on things like same-sex marriage, abortion and legalized recreational marijuana?
A: I believe everybody should have access to all the rights everybody else does, so I support same-sex marriage. I support a woman’s right to choose, definitely. I really don’t have a strong opinion on the legalization of marijuana, but I would hope that if we go that direction we see a decline in illegal activities. I’m concerned about the violence in some parts of our state (related to) drug dealing activities.
Q: You mentioned the SLAM project before. Is that your top priority?
A: I don’t know all the projects and everything that’s going on in Juneau. I know quite a bit, but I know you have a project under construction and I would really like to see it finished. I want to make sure the money comes along in a way that allows it to be finished without significant delays or increased costs.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Juneau?
A: The capital move is always an issue. I don’t believe that’s the biggest challenge, but concerns about capital creep and about the declining economy — we are a state employee-dependent community. We do have other industries ... it would be nice to kind of diversify the economy so that’s kind of a key issue, but it’s also going to be important to make sure we defend the state budget so we can have the state services that the public has come to expect. Not having a chance to sit down and go through all the issues and not having a chance to talk to the constituents it’s kind of difficult, but the operating budget is the key to having a stable Juneau.