Election requires careful scrutiny of candidates, positions

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2010

The municipal election is this Tuesday, our chance to express our collective will for the future of the Capital City. Three City Assembly and two Juneau School District School Board seats are on the ballot, alongside three propositions. Each matter deserves careful scrutiny as results of the voting will be with us for a long time.

Two of three assembly races are uncontested. Johan Dybdahl is seeking re-election to the areawide seat he has held for two terms. Having faced a somewhat serious challenger three years ago, Dybdahl drew no opponent this year, probably because of his commanding victory in 2007. Dybdahl is a great assemblymember, thoughtful and good at listening and we're fortunate he's willing to serve a third term.

Mary Becker, a veteran teacher and former three-term school board member running for the assembly for the first time, also runs unopposed. While incumbents often face no opponent, it's less usual for an open seat to draw only one contender. Becker finds herself in this position because she's well known and respected in the community, her ability and commitment beyond reasonable doubt. She will do well helping run the Capital City in the coming years and we can expect great things from her.

The race for District 2 is one to watch, with three contenders for a single spot. Greg Brown, Karen Crane, and Christopher Nelson have campaigned actively, appearing at candidate forums and getting to know voters. Some residents may not realize that although they don't live in District 2, we all get to vote in this race. Each candidate offers something different: Brown, no relation, is a highly experienced businessman, Crane a distinguished former state official, and Nelson a fresh, young newcomer to politics. One issue where the two older candidates have staked out a markedly different position than their more youthful competitor is the proposed causeway between the mainland and Douglas Island. While Brown and Crane express support for some sort of second crossing, they oppose the one explicitly before voters this time around. Nelson, on the other hand, is unequivocally in favor of the Sunny Point causeway, as well as the Lynn Canal Highway project. This will likely garner him many votes when considered by voters alongside his articulate self-expression and energy. While the outcome of this three-way race is tough to predict, I think Nelson has a real chance of winning, and he's already admirably committed himself to trying again if things don't go his way this election cycle.

All three candidates for two school board seats are qualified and would be fine additions to this body. Ivan Nance is retired from the Coast Guard due to physical disability, and is sharp, sincere, and thoughtful. Barbara Thurston is a devoted mother of two in the Juneau School District with a discerning mind for ways to improve students' educational experiences. Kim Poole has no kids in the schools, but nevertheless strikes me as a caring, committed community member with much to offer as a leader in the educational system. The most difficult choice facing voters this coming Tuesday is picking only two of these three eminently worthwhile potential school board members.

Of the three Propositions, I expect No. 1 to pass easily and No. 3 to be soundly rejected. The former asks voters to approve the issuance of bonds to renovate Auke Bay Elementary School, an aging facility in dire need of refurbishment, with the strong likelihood the state will reimburse 70 percent of the final cost. This is a no-brainer question to which voters will say "yes." The latter measure asks if Juneau needs a Charter Commission to consider fundamental changes to our local governing structures, and as there are no pressing problems arising from the City Charter, I expect the collective answer will be no.

Proposition No. 2 has been the subject of more debate in this local election cycle than anything else, because while there is widespread support for a North Douglas link to mainland Juneau, some people fear harm to the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge if this exact plan is pursued. Whether No. 2 passes depends on whether voters will embrace the concept of a second crossing to ensure some sort of progress on this issue. Supporters, including myself, believe we must commit as a community to the big idea in order to move forward, while opponents want voters to reject the idea before it moves any further along the spectrum to completion.

The fact the current assembly voted 7-2 to place this question before voters speaks volumes about the basic soundness of the idea, but what is most telling is the amount of concrete information put forward by the respective sides of the argument. Those in favor of Proposition 2 have gone out of their way to explain what they know, what remains unknown, and how and when the gap in between can and will be filled in an open and transparent process. Those opposing Proposition 2 have generally tried to raise doubts without offering concrete reasons why Sunny Point is not a reasonable place to begin the community effort to improve surface access in the Capital City.

At the end of the day, however voters feel about the candidates or measures up for decision, I strongly encourage all voters to participate on Election Day, and hope we'll have strong turnout.

• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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