House candidates discuss road, economic development at forum

Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2002

Making Juneau more accessible to the rest of the state, capturing funding for local projects, and strengthening relationships with its Southeast neighbors were some of the main topics at Friday's candidate forum at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Two candidates each are running for the two state House seats representing Juneau.

In District 3, which represents downtown Juneau, Douglas, Lemon Creek and the Juneau airport area, Democratic incumbent Beth Kerttula faces Republican challenger Mike Race.

The race for District 4, which represents most of the Mendenhall Valley and all points north, is between Republican Bruce Weyhrauch and Democrat Tim Grussendorf. The winner will replace retiring legislator Rep. Bill Hudson, founder of the bipartisan fiscal policy caucus that sought to forge a long-term fiscal plan in the last legislative session.

Weyhrauch has led the race so far in fund-raising with $49,467. Kerttula is next with $34,104, followed by Grussendorf with $31,570 and Race with a distant $4,150, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

All four candidates supported completing the environmental impact statement for access to Juneau, the transportation study cut short in 2000 by Gov. Tony Knowles. The study has a preferred alternative of building a road on the east side of Lynn Canal, connecting Juneau and Skagway.

Kerttula was the only candidate who did not commit to supporting the construction of the road, although she agreed the EIS should be finished.

"I'm not so certain about the outcome (of the EIS), which is one reason why I would like to see it finished, so we have the answers and we can make a good decision," she said.

Throughout the campaign Kerttula has said she would push for funding the ferry system to enhance travel in Southeast.

"I want to see ferries improved; we put $20 million in the budget last year and we need to put more in," she said.

Kerttula said she would push for construction of a new building to house the Legislature, development of a long-range fiscal plan that does not include a sales tax, and funding to complete the University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries research center at Lena Point in Juneau.

Race, owner of Coldwell Banker Race Realty and Kerttula's opponent, said as a Republican he would be part of the majority party and better equipped to capture funding for projects in Juneau.

"We need to be in the majority," Race said. "Had Beth been in the majority she would have been hell on wheels; thank God, Bill Hudson was there and we brought home what we could get."

Race said Knowles should not have cut the funding short on the EIS for Juneau access, adding that the capital needs to be made more accessible.

"Some people have questioned whether I am serious about this candidacy - I am; I have a priority and the priority is to keep the capital here.

"It was stupid not to continue (the EIS)," Race said. "We have to make the town more accommodating."

Race also has advocated for construction of covered parking at the airport. He also promised to press for a better convention facility to house events such as Celebration, a growing Native festival held every two years in Juneau.

"Celebration has grown so large and is so well-respected, and we don't have a place to put it," Race said.

Grussendorf said being a member of the majority is less important than having the ability to work with moderates on both sides of the aisle.

Grussendorf said he is running because he is tired of the divisiveness in state government that has prevented lawmakers from moving forward with a long-range fiscal plan to address the state's looming fiscal gap.

He said the super majority - the three-fourths majority of Republicans that now control the Legislature - causes divisiveness, and without moderates in the capital to broker a deal the fiscal gap will remain unsolved.

Calling himself an "Egan Democrat," referring to former Gov. Bill Egan, Grussendorf told the audience he is a conservative moderate.

He said along with improving access to the capital city, building a road would help stimulate the economy.

"I think the university here wants a road - they can get more students down here," he said, noting that giving University of Alaska Southeast students the ability to drive home on breaks and weekends would increase enrollment by attracting students from up north.

Grussendorf, a commercial fisherman in Southeast and former legislative staffer to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, said a road would help the fishing industry by allowing fishermen to truck their catch out of Juneau rather than flying it out.

If elected, Grussendorf said he would commit himself full time to the job as lawmaker for Juneau, noting that his opponent, Weyhrauch, would split his time during sessions between working as a lawyer and for the Legislature.

"The legislative session is a full-time job," Grussendorf said. "I'm not sure how someone is going to run a business on the side and be a full-time legislator during the session. It's not really possible."

Weyhrauch, who has received the endorsement of retiring District 4 legislator Bill Hudson, said he would continue with the work Hudson started.

"Unlike my opponent, who announced that he was going to run against Mr. Hudson based on Mr. Hudson's record, I supported Mr. Hudson, and I supported what he did for Juneau," Weyhrauch said.

As a lawyer in private practice representing commercial fishermen, Weyhrauch said, he has the connections in Southeast to build coalitions between communities and stimulate economic development.

Supporting resource development in other parts of Southeast would help balance the growing political and economic power in the Mat-Su and Anchorage areas.

"We are losing reapportionment battles over time, and we need to stop that flow of power to the north," he said.

Weyhrauch said finding a common denominator among Southeast residents will help encourage economic development.

"I think the fundamental values of this region are people that want to enjoy the outdoors; they want to enjoy fishing; they want to enjoy a clean environment; they want to have the opportunity to economically develop their own lives so they can raise their families and their kids here," he said.

If elected, Weyhrauch said he would push for funding for a swimming pool in the Mendenhall Valley and improvements to the Capitol.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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