Voters will have a clear choice in determining who is best suited to represent Juneau in the state Senate. The decision won't be made based solely on character or personality, because challenger Cathy Muñoz and incumbent Kim Elton are both hard-working, big-hearted, principled people. Both candidates deserve and enjoy great popularity and support.
The candidates share similar backgrounds. Both have deep roots in Southeast Alaska and ties to commercial fishing. They are both champions for education. They are smart and articulate. Muñoz and Elton each has solid experience in government.
This race is a pivotal one for Juneau and Southeast Alaska, for the Juneau Senate seat represents far more than just District B. Juneau's senator is an ambassador for the community and for the state's capital city. He or she serves as a spokesperson and advocate for the entire Southeast Alaska region. A true sense of regionalism is growing among the communities scattered throughout Southeast Alaska as the need to pursue common interests coalesces.
There is a shift afoot throughout the region toward growth and development as evidenced by municipal elections this past month. Haines and Sitka, two communities known as home to strong environmental factions, elected pro-development mayors. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents overwhelmingly elected a mayor and Assembly members who ran on their advocacy for economic development. Two incumbents with anti-development leanings were turned out to pasture.
Sen. Elton's gets high marks from environmental organizations for his anti-development record. Elton is a champion for big government and supports more taxes on tourism and favors a state income tax and use of permanent fund earnings to pay the way.
Like the Knowles-Ulmer administration, he has been in denial about the impact of the loss of resource-based jobs in Southeast Alaska while proudly pointing to growth of government jobs as a good thing.
He doesn't seem to grasp that forcing a big head tax on cruise ship passengers might not sit well in economically hammered Ketchikan, where the city voted against taxing passengers.
Elton sticks to his principles and that is an admirable trait. However, he is out of step with where Southeast Alaska is headed and a case can be made that he is out of step with the rest of Alaska. He was one of the few holdouts in the Senate's vote to drill in ANWR. He was one of only five in the entire Legislature to vote against a resolution to protect the American flag.
Persistent questions about Elton's effectiveness have chased him throughout this campaign.
We do know that he stood by powerless as the Knowles-Ulmer administration moved half of the state's commissioners and their staffs out of Juneau. He also met personally with the governor in a failed attempt to get him to free up funding to complete the Juneau Access EIS.
Those who embrace Elton's ideologies will stick by him. Voters who haven't made up their minds yet should give strong consideration to the values and vision embraced by Muñoz. Juneau has not had a strong leader in the Senate in over a decade. Bill Ray served in the state Senate from 1971 to 1985. He was known as a strong voice for state workers and for heading off capital move efforts before they took root. The State Office Building is a monument to his effectiveness as a leader for Juneau.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, Bill Ray's endorsement of Cathy Muñoz for his former seat speaks volumes about the confidence other leaders have in her ability to work beyond party lines. Muñoz also enjoys the full support of Juneau's longtime representative, Bill Hudson.
Early in 2001 Sen. Elton failed to secure an important seat on the Senate Finance Committee, which would have given Juneau enormous clout on the hill. During that same time, Muñoz took up the chair of the Juneau Assembly Finance Committee and did an outstanding job of managing the city's budget. She was instrumental in rolling the property tax level back by the greatest margin in the city's history while working with city staff to find cost-saving operating efficiencies.
Cathy Muñoz is the best choice to represent Juneau in the Senate. She will enjoy a greater advantage as a member of the Senate majority, but she will also do a better job of working across party lines and with her counterparts in Southeast Alaska to solidify and protect the interests of the region. Muñoz is a smart, aggressive but compassionate consensus builder who is in step with the future of Juneau, Southeast and Alaska.
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