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When Democrat Tim June moved to Alaska 24 years ago, he was fighting for his life. A young man "dying from cancer," he partly credits his recovery to the clean water, fish and air he found here.
Although he's unsure what caused his cancer, his struggle with the illness transformed him into a man passionate about protecting the environment, and he said that passion is the driving force behind his campaign to win the District C Senate seat left vacant by Republican Jerry Mackie, who retired.
Although June is an environmental activist, he said he's not an environmental extremist, a label his Republican opponent Alan Austerman is fond of attaching to him.
"I think he would tie up Alaska rather than help develop it and make it a great state," said Austerman, who after serving six years left the state House of Representatives in a bid for the Senate.
Austerman, 57, of Kodiak said he chose to enter the race because he was frustrated with the Senate for blocking a rural priority for subsistence fish and game and another proposal to help fund state government as oil money runs out, a proposal he helped craft.
June, a commercial troller and boat builder, said: "I will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure we are protecting fisheries and public health. It's what I live with and live for."
A long-time water quality activist, June in 1992 co-founded the now defunct Alaska Clean Water Alliance to fight a move by former Gov. Walter Hickel to "deregulate our water quality standards for the financial benefit of pulp mills, oil companies and hard-rock mining companies," said June, 47.
Now June is taking on the cruise ship industry. Royal Caribbean last year admitted to past illegal dumping of hazardous chemicals in Southeast waters, prompting an angry public protest in Haines, June's hometown.
June said if he were elected to the Senate, he would push a litany of proposals to better regulate the industry, including industry-funded onboard observers to monitor ship pollution and a state tax on cruise passengers, a proposal that died in committee last session.
"These companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profits and I think the return to the state is appalling," said June, a Haines borough assemblyman and school board member.
If elected to the Senate, a long-term financial plan would be his highest priority, Austerman said. His plan for funding state government would have used some interest earnings from the Permanent Fund coupled with unspecified new taxes.
"People want streets, sewer, water projects and schools. Some place along the way somebody has to pay for that stuff," Austerman said. "We have to have a long-term plan."
His opponent criticized Austerman for pushing the proposal to tap Permanent Fund earnings, which June said would reduce substantially the annual dividend paid to residents. But Austerman said his proposal called for tapping excess earnings after the dividend is paid and would slightly slow the growth of the checks, not substantially reduce them.
June also criticized Austerman for voting in favor of a 1998 bill to rewrite the school funding formula, which redistributed some money from rural schools to urban districts.
Austerman defended his House vote, saying he had thought "it was a step in the right direction." He conceded the new formula appears to have hurt rural schools, but he doesn't think it has hurt them any more than the old formula.
When asked to explain how the old formula had hurt rural schools, Austerman said he would have to read the old and new formulas again before he could answer.
Austerman said if elected to the Senate, he would push to rewrite the school funding formula, and that he'd be better poised as a member of the majority to get things done. Republicans are expected to keep their majority status in the Senate after the general election, and Austerman said even if that changed, he would be willing to join a coalition of Democrats to stay in the majority.
As a member of the House majority, Austerman said he sponsored an amendment to fully fund a state subsidy for rural power, which passed the Legislature. Without his sway in the majority, the cost of rural electricity in the future might have gone up, Austerman said.
June said his skills as a grass roots organizer would help him sway votes, even as a member of the minority.
Both candidates are traveling extensively in the district, which sprawls from Kodiak to Yakutat and encompasses 57 rural communities many previously represented by Austerman as a House member.
As of Oct. 7, the political newcomer had raised more money than the veteran. Campaign finance reports from the Alaska Public Offices Commission show June had collected about $34,500, compared to Austerman's $30,700.