Rural SE voters to pick senator from Interior

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

Voters from Southeast communities from Metlakatla to Yakutat will decide Nov. 5 which of two Interior Alaska candidates will represent them in the state Senate.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

New Senate district lines put the rural Southeast communities in the state's largest district, which also takes in parts of Prince William Sound and includes a huge chunk of the Interior stretching from the Canadian border most of the way to the Bering Sea.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, and political newcomer Mac Carter, a Central Republican, talk about the need for economic development in the district, where some remote communities have just a handful of jobs.

"People are ready for a change," Carter said. "And they're ready for some improvement in their lives through a job, a value-added job." By value-added, he means a steady job with health and retirement benefits.

Carter, a member of his region's school board, owns a gardening business.

Lincoln, who has served 12 years in the House and Senate, is on the board of directors for Doyon Ltd., the Native corporation for Interior Alaska.

Lincoln said she's running again because she wants to continue to speak up for the needs of children, whom she calls the state's future. While politicians often refer to young people as the state's most important resource, "we're not walking our talk," she said.

Alaska needs to invest more in education, including good preschool and child care for people at all levels of income, she said. Support for education needs to continue up to the university level, she said.

Both candidates support building roads to promote development of mineral resources in remote areas, although Lincoln said she would not push road building in communities that don't want it.

Carter said he'd like to loosen regulations on oil and gas projects to spur more development in that industry.

Lincoln wants to look at whether management of fishing and timber can be improved to help those industries without hurting the environment.

Both candidates favor more state support for marketing Alaska salmon, which is competing with farmed salmon from other parts of the world.

Lincoln said she would like to see partnerships between urban tourism centers and villages that would provide tourists with the experience of seeing Native dancing and interacting with Alaska Natives, while spurring village economies.

The candidates differ on what action the state should take to deal with a gap between state spending and income, which has been filled in the past few years by drawing from a savings account called the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The state Revenue Department estimates the fund will run out of cash in 2004 or 2005, depending on the price of oil, which funds much of state government.

Lincoln said the budget gap is "not just a slight problem." She believes filling the gap will take a combination of solutions, including an income tax.

"I know we cannot cut our way out of this," she said. The state has been cutting its budget for 10 years.

Contracting some services to the private sector is one thing the state could look at, as long as that doesn't hurt people receiving services, she said.

Lincoln opposes a sales tax, saying it would put the heaviest burden on low-income Alaskans. She also opposes using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings without a vote of the people. She said economic development can be a part of the solution, and she supports a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

Carter opposes taxes or use of permanent fund earnings. He believes the problem may not be all that bad, and that with a new administration coming in next year, priorities could be readjusted within the state budget.

"There's so much waste going on right now in state government, it's not even funny," Carter said. He talks about new Department of Transportation vehicles with leather seats and flashing bars, and $30,000 for signs to close roads.

He opposes cuts that would result in closing roads or parks, which happened this year.

Carter acknowledges it would be difficult to bridge a gap of perhaps $500 million this year by cutting spending in $30,000 increments.

"There's no way you can cut your way out of it, there's no way you can tax your way out," Carter said. "We need to get this state rolling again."

He said building roads to promote development would generate corporate taxes to help fill the gap. He assumes the federal government would help build the roads, and ongoing maintenance of them "could be fit into the budget."

He also supports contracting some services to the private sector.

The candidates differ on one key resource issue: subsistence use of fish and game. Lincoln supports amending the constitution to allow a rural priority for subsistence hunting and fishing, while Carter opposes a rural preference.

However, he said in a recent interview that doesn't necessarily mean he wouldn't allow a constitutional amendment to go before voters.

Before the constitution can be amended, two-thirds of the House and Senate must vote to put an amendment before voters. The Senate has fallen short of the two-thirds vote in the past.

"I have never said I wouldn't give the people the opportunity to vote on it," he said. "I'm not saying how it would be worded."

Both said they support wolf control in areas of the state where wolves are competing with subsistence hunters for moose and caribou.

Neither candidate supports moving legislative sessions from Juneau. Lincoln has said she would be willing to consider a road north to Skagway if it was financially and environmentally sound. Carter said he would not take a position on such a road, calling it a local issue.

Lincoln believes adding the Southeast communities to the district won't make her job much more difficult, comparing it to adding more children to a large family. The communities share many common denominators, Lincoln said.

Inadequate schools, high energy costs, high unemployment and subsistence are common denominators in most remote areas, she added.

Cathy Brown is a Juneau freelance reporter who has worked for the Juneau Empire and The Associated Press.

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