Bottom Line at State House Debate: It’s All About the Budget

(Left to right) Duncan Fields, Louise Stutes, Brent Watkins, and moderator Cliff Davidson. Photo by Kayla Desroches

(Left to right) Duncan Fields, Louise Stutes, Brent Watkins, and moderator Cliff Davidson. Photo by Kayla Desroches

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Candidates for the Alaska House of Representatives District 32 shared their views and suggested budget solutions at the State House Debate in Kodiak Tuesday night. Independent Duncan Fields, Republican incumbent Louise Stutes, and Democrat Brent Watkins sat side by side for the event, which the Chamber of Commerce produced alongside KMXT Public Radio.

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The candidates answered a number of questions including one about the budget. Here’s one question moderator Cliff Davidson presented:

“Every time the Alaska Department of Fish and Game ComFish budget is cut, we lose research and management programs that allow for harvest opportunity. The result is fewer jobs, less income, and fewer fish on which to pay taxes to the state. How would you balance the loss of funding to the Fish and Game COMFISH budget with the department’s ability to manage our fishery resources?”

Stutes responded first.

“In this state, you cannot dedicate tax dollars, but you most certainly can designate tax dollars, and I would set up a fund where dollars that are – I would like to see set up – that dollars that are created by the ComFish industry go back into the ComFish industry.”

Watkins gave his answer next.

“As we’ve developed our downtown and added a convention center and continue to add more hotel space, we’ll be able to promote this and a wide variety of other conventions to come into town. This will boost our business and tax base and help put funds back into all of these programs that we need. If we think with an open mind and look in the odd corners of our town, we can build a solid budget to fund these projects.”

Fields was the last candidate to answer.

“We can’t cut anymore. It’s not a matter of balancing. It’s a matter of stopping. We have to stop the cuts to Fish and Game. The conversation relative to dedicate or designate is a clever conversation, but it’s not a realistic conversation. We designate funds from an aquaculture association because the fishermen pay those funds into account, and then they’re re-transferred by appropriation to the legislature. If we move down the road to designate funds from fishing to go to fishing, what’s going to stop the oil company from designating all the oil revenues to go back to the oil companies?”

Fields’ response to Stutes’ designate rather than dedicate suggestion is a sample of the night’s dynamic. Fields put more heat into the debate aspect of the event compared to recent political forums in Kodiak, which have remained relatively free of explicit criticism.

He folded several comments about Stutes and her actions as representative into some of his responses. Here’s part of his answer to a question about how the candidate would work with legislators from non-coastal communities on issues specific to coastal communities.

“Louise is running as a Republican, but for the most part she abandoned the Republican caucus in the last legislative session.”

“Excuse me,”  said Stutes. “I thought this was a forum on questions, not on individuals.”

“And as such,” continued Fields. “It’s harder to build relationship with urban legislators.”

Fields did not elaborate on his point regarding Stutes and she did not present a counter-argument. Fields went onto talk about what his approach would be like regarding urban-rural relationships.

“If you’re going to work with urban legislators, you need to come with good ideas, you need to come with innovation, and you need to come with education. We need to do a better job as rural legislators educating the urban legislators, particularly in terms of  the impact of their cuts on our communities.”

For her answer, Stutes spoke for the power of communication between non-coastal and coastal representatives.

“You’re never gonna get it always your way and they’re never gonna always get it their way. And there are legislators from the Railbelt that understand that. And that’s what it’s all about is working together with your coworkers, and we have a very, very strong rural caucus which helps as well.”

Watkins also emphasized working together with other leaders in Alaska.

“In talking to people around the state, we’re able to share our concerns and find that most of it’s on 80 percent of common ground with the last 20 percent being specific to the different needs of the locales, be it the economics or the environmental factors. It’s a matter of sitting down and talking with folks and building coalitions and building bridges.”

The representative for Alaska’s thirty-second state house district will be chosen at the upcoming general election on November 8.

Debate Audio (Parts 1 – 3):

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