In his first run for elected office, Sutton resident Mike Aubrey says Alaska needs a new vision.
Aubrey, 50, faces 34-year incumbent Ted Stevens, 78, in the Aug. 27 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Aubrey is unemployed but has worked in construction most of his life and most recently for Chickaloon Health Services as a transportation coordinator and health education instructor.
Stevens, Alaska's senior U.S. senator, is ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits on the powerful Senate Rules Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees fisheries, oceans, aviation, and technology issues.
Both candidates support continued funding of homeland security and national defense, oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and construction of a gas pipeline.
But Aubrey said Alaska's boom-bust economy needs to be stabilized by creating jobs in manufacturing.
He proposes building a bridge across Cook Inlet and a road along the west coast of Alaska and then opening federal lands to private ownership for homesteading and industry. That would allow for growth on the other side of the inlet and encourage trade with markets in Southeast Asia, Aubrey said.
"There are a million products out there that people need," Aubrey said, not specifying what kind of manufacturing jobs would be brought to the region. Opening up the inlet also would bring more opportunities for tourism and agriculture, Aubrey said.
"Anchorage is nearing maximum capacity and people are moving to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough," Aubrey said. "It's the only direction for Anchorage to go."
In a debate with Aubrey on KAKM public television in Anchorage on Tuesday, Stevens said his seniority in the U.S. Senate would help get the kind of projects needed in the state.
"As still a young state we have many things we need: roads, airports, highways, docks," Stevens said. "Everything that we need requires what I've got now, which is seniority in the United States Senate."
Stevens said his seniority has helped the state establish programs such as the 1998 Denali Commission, which has brought tens of millions of dollars to Bush communities, providing basic needs such as running water, sewer systems and electricity.
But in order to protect the future of such programs, Stevens said in the debate, it is incumbent upon lawmakers to establish a strong national defense.
"I think we have to realize that if we have another 9/11, we are going to face some very serious consequences," Stevens said, noting that the United States spent $40 million in the first nine months dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. "Every such incidence is going to cost a lot of money."
Stevens said he would make the opening of a gas pipeline his top priority if re-elected. He said construction of a gasline would make Alaska one of the greatest suppliers of gas in the country and create an economic stimulus for other companies to look for more gas.
"We've got a lot more gas than what we've discovered so far," he said.
Calling it the largest project in the history of man, Stevens said it could be completed within a decade if started next year.
Aside from building and maintaining a strong economy, Aubrey said he would work to build a stronger line of communication between himself and his constituents.
"We need more access to our representatives," Aubrey said. He said sending information to lawmakers through e-mail is not enough and added that voters need to be informed of their senators' opinions and voting records.
Aubrey suggested opening a live computer chat room where he would talk with constituents on a weekly basis.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.