Party affiliation may be one of the few major differences between the two candidates running for Alaska's largest Senate district.
Angoon Democrat Albert Kookesh and Aniak Republican Carl Morgan have served as rural lawmakers in the state House of Representatives since the 1990s. Both candidates voted to use the Alaska Permanent Fund for state government this year and both support rural infrastructure and oppose incorporating small communities into mandatory boroughs.
They are running for the Senate District C seat being vacated by Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart. Lincoln, a cousin of Kookesh's wife, has held the seat since 1992 and is working as his campaign manager. The 250,000-square-mile district includes some 126 communities and 25 school districts.
When asked what distinguishes him from his opponent, Kookesh, 55, pointed to Gov. Frank Murkowski's veto of the $45 million Longevity Bonus program for seniors. In 2003, Murkowski eliminated the program, which provided monthly checks of up to $250 for seniors. Democrats tried to override the cut this year but were defeated by Republicans.
"Bob Lynn was the only Republican who voted with us and you see what happened to him," Kookesh said. "He got thrown out of his chairmanship and almost kicked out of the majority."
Morgan, 54, said that's exactly why he voted against the Democrats. As chairman of the House Community and Regional Affairs committee, Morgan said he has blocked efforts to force rural communities into boroughs. Mandatory borough incorporation would require small communities to pay for schools with local taxes.
Morgan said a vote to override Murkowski's cut would have lost him his chairmanship and his ability to stop borough incorporation proposals.
"I don't think it should have been cut," he said. "I was looking at the bigger picture."
Kookesh said he also opposes mandatory boroughs.
When asked about legislation he's filed since first being elected to the House in 1996, Kookesh said he's looking at the big-picture infrastructure needs in his region. In the eight years he's served in the House, Kookesh hasn't sponsored a bill.
"I'm not so much concerned, as most people are, of coming down here and having a legislative scorecard that says I've introduced 20 bills and I got five adopted," he said.
Kookesh said rural Alaska is more concerned about school maintenance funding, lowering power rates and other infrastructure needs.
Morgan said that as a member of the Republican majority he is better positioned to secure infrastructure projects for the district than is Kookesh.
"If you're not in the majority, no matter where you are, you don't get ideas ahead and you can't stop bills," he said.
Kookesh acknowledged that majority lawmakers have the edge on passing legislation.
Kookesh, however, added that Republicans need Democrats' support to tap the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve to balance shortfalls each year. He said Democrats used their CBR vote in 2002 to force Republicans to approve a school bond construction package that provided $5 million apiece for schools in Hydaburg and Angoon.
Kookesh and Morgan said they would work to provide more funding for the state's Power Cost Equalization program, which provides cheap energy to remote communities. Kookesh said the state provided $185 million to create an endowment for the program but left out schools, businesses and health clinics. He said the state should spend another $100 million to fully fund the program.
Morgan said the rising price of oil is making the program more important than ever.
"PCE is very important to me," he said. "I've always thought that taking schools and businesses off is not the right thing to do."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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