Voters meet candidates at Juneau speed-dating event

Meet-and-greet format intended to help young Alaskans get involved

Posted: Sunday, October 04, 2009

Voters can show pleasure or displeasure at the polls. They can demonstrate, call and write letters. They can attend forums and town hall meetings. They can petition. Maybe a candidate will show up at a voter's door.

David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire

But it's a little less common for the average voter to have a politician sitting across a table from them asking "What do you think? Are you happy with where Juneau's going?"

Most attendees of Friday evening's candidate speed dating event heard questions like that at least once.

The event, held at the Silverbow Inn, was organized by Elevate Alaska, a group of about 200 young Alaskans interested in getting young people involved in the political process.

It was targeted at 18- to 40-year-olds. Groups of two to four young voters circulated between nine tables, emulating the speed dating format.

Assembly District 2 candidates Ruth Danner and Stephanie Madsen, Assembly District 1 candidates David Stone and Karen Lawfer, mayoral candidate Mark Farmer, Sen. Dennis Egan and Rep. Cathy Muñoz attended the event. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Poe called in, and Claire Richardson, Mayor Bruce Botelho's campaign manager, attended in his place. Botelho was in Anchorage attending the Tongass Futures Roundtable.

While candidates did end up talking about issues on their platforms, event founder Nils Andreassen emphasized the event was "not as much a chance for them to talk to (voters) as an opportunity for you to share with public officials what are your issues, what are your interests, what are you passionate about."

Over the course of the an or so spent rotating between tables, some of the questions people asked were:

What about the budget shortfall? Would you tap into the rainy day fund? What do you think about docks and harbors fees? How about affordable housing, jobs, tourism, financing education and waste management? What's the biggest thing coming up in the Legislature?

And then there are the litmus tests:

Do you support the Juneau access road? What about Thunder Mountain High School? What's your registered party?

Attendee Brice Habeger said he already felt informed enough about the issues, so he was just trying to get a feel for the candidates as people.

"I definitely got out of it what I wanted to get out of it," he said.

Other attendees said they had similar motivations in attending.

Rose Foley, 30, said she thought it would be a good opportunity both to get to know candidates and those in office now. She said she had different questions for different politicians.

Eric Sandberg, 26, said he'd just moved from Anchorage to Juneau in March and is still in the process of learning more about local politicians.

"It's a nice change to get to see them up close," he said.

Elevate Alaska held similar events last week in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Petersburg.

Tuesday is election day.

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