Battle is on for biggest Senate district

Senate District C hopefuls take different roads, planes, ferries

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

The candidates vying to represent rural Southeast residents in the state Senate have very different approaches to running Alaska's government.

Democratic incumbent Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart, who has served 12 years in the state House and Senate, wants government to have a better chance of serving Alaskans. She said that's been hard due to recent reductions in funding and services.

"Cutting state government isn't the answer. We can't cut our way out of our billion-dollar deficit. It cannot happen," she said from Anchorage during a stop between campaign appearances.

Republican challenger Mac Carter of Central, a member of his region's school board and owner of a gardening business, wants less government and proposes turning over some of its services to the private sector. He said that's the message he's hearing from voters as he travels the district.

"Every one of them has said we need to cut the budget, we need to cut state spending," he said from a motel in Haines after addressing the town's chamber of commerce.

For the past 10 years, Southeast Islands District residents have been paired with the Kodiak-based House district to form a cross-gulf Senate District. But redistricting matched rural Southeast with an Interior Senate district where Lincoln is the incumbent. Because no Southeast resident filed for the seat, both candidates live closer to Fairbanks than they do to the Panhandle.

Since Lincoln and Carter are the only people running in their respective party's primary, both are sure to advance to the Nov. 5 general election. But they still are on the road, campaigning in a district stretching from Metlakatla in southern Southeast to Cordova on Prince William Sound and including a huge horseshoe-shaped area of the Interior stretching from the Alaska-Canada border, above the Arctic Circle and most of the way to the Bering Sea. Alaska Public Offices Commission reports show Carter raising $12, 845 so far, with Lincoln at $10,845, including 2001.

The two differ on subsistence, taking opposite sides on a proposed constitutional amendment giving rural residents preference, which backers say would allow the state to regain full control of fish and game. Because the state constitution and federal law differ on the issue, federal agencies have taken control of subsistence management.

Lincoln long has supported a constitutional amendment.

"I'm definitely for a rural preference and I think we need to put it out there for the people to vote on," she said.

Carter opposes giving any group a preference.

"I want to protect the equal rights of everyone," he said. "The state and federal constitutions call for equal protection."

On the budget gap, Lincoln pointed to her role helping develop a long-range fiscal plan as a member of a government-led task force in the '90s that she said would have put the state in better financial shape than it is today.

"The Republicans said, 'Thank you very much for the report,' and it went into the garbage," Lincoln said. "We can talk all we want about where we're going to cut and what we're going to cut, but without an action plan we don't know where we're going."

Lincoln has authored bills to reinstitute Alaska's income tax, in part to tap the earnings of seasonal workers who give little back to the state. She also supports an increased alcohol tax and a statewide cruise ship passenger fee.

She opposes a sales tax as unfair and inequitable because it doesn't consider the ability to pay.

She backs the proposed natural gas pipeline and said the state can generate revenue from new or expanded industry, including timber and tourism, by improving transportation and finding ways to reduce rural power costs.

"You might have a lot of resources but if you can't get them out, then those resources are simply going to sit there," she said.

Carter said part of the budget gap can be solved through cuts. While he said he doesn't want to cut entire programs, he considers state government as a whole "top heavy" with too much administration and duplication of effort.

"I'm in favor of combining some of the levels in each department together," he said. "You can't cut your way out of the fiscal gap, but you can't tax your way out either."

Carter opposes a statewide sales tax or cruise-ship tax, which he said should be local options. He suggested saving money and improving service by privatizing some road maintenance and social services. Any sales or income tax should go before the voters, he said.

He said making Alaska more friendly to business would bring jobs and revenue that would help bridge the fiscal gap. Carter wants the state to support further development of minerals, timber, oil and gas and other natural resources. He wants more infrastructure, such as roads, and less regulation, which he said is hurting the economy.

"We're running small businesses out of business in Alaska," he said. "That's not what economic growth is about."

He thinks Southeast's timber-processing industry should include a pulp mill and fiberboard plant.

"The same thing could also be done in the Interior," he said.

Lincoln, who has fished commercially and for subsistence, wants better research to determine why some salmon runs have dropped. She opposes allowing fish farming in the state and supports better marketing.

"We have to look at our markets and know what people want - timing, pricing, all of that," she said. "Money is not a total answer but it's certainly a big part of it."

Carter supports increased marketing to help the fishing industry, but also questions how much should be spent.

"I don't want to think the state has to do everything for everybody," he said.

He supports the idea of banning the sale of farmed fish within the state, although he admitted it might face legal hurdles.

Both oppose a measure on the Nov. 5 general election ballot that would move legislative sessions out of Juneau. Lincoln said she would be willing to consider a road north to Skagway if it was financially and environmentally sound. Carter said he would not take a position on such a road, calling it a local issue.

The candidates said they'd work to improve funding for rural education, but differed on their approach to solving problems in rural communities.

Lincoln said she's pushed to level the playing field for rural schools, which she said get fewer state resources. And she pointed to her work to put a school construction and repair bond issue on the November ballot.

"It's fair for all schools," she said.

Carter focuses on creating a voucher program and expanding charter schools "so that parents have a greater input for their children's education." He also wants to create a revenue endowment fund for schools.

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