Next Tuesday’s election decides whether voters will send incumbent Republican Alan Austerman back to Juneau to represent District 36 or challenger Terry Haines, a Democrat who this month narrowly lost his re-election to the Kodiak City Council.
As KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports, there were few points of disagreement between the two men vying for Kodiak’s House seat.
The first question from moderator Bill Oliver dealt with each man’s approach to diversifying Kodiak’s economy. The question was put first to Terry Haines who said Kodiak, like the state as a whole, needs to evolve past being just an extraction point for raw materials.
Alan Austerman agreed there had been a failure at the state level in promoting economic development outside of simple resource extraction.
Improving transportation links was also discussed. Austerman accused the state of having poor planning for the state ferry system. He says it’s a contentious debate when the legislature is setting the transportation budget.
Haines says the problem is because Kodiak is that the large ferry vessel Kennicott is ill-suited for the island’s needs.
Both candidates spoke in favor of vocational education at Kodiak College. Austerman pointed to the gap in seafood processing training whereas Haines focused on hands-on skills like welding and mechanics.
The two men also spoke out against the proposed Pebble Mine. Austerman even expressed skepticism it would ever be built. But he said he’s working in the legislature to ensure that a state-funded study is objective.
Haines said he doubts it could be developed without imperiling Bristol Bay’s vast salmon fishery which thousands depend on for their livelihood.
In fact there were few moments when the men disagreed. For example, both men said they support a state-owned gas pipeline rather than the current AGIA in which private energy companies would be given incentives to build a privately owned gas pipeline down from the North Slope.
During closing remarks each man was able to sketch out their priorities. Austerman said the state will have to make some tough fiscal choices in the future and he wants a seat at the table.
In his closing remarks, Haines paid his opponent a backhanded compliment.
The debate mirrored the campaign, low key and civil with each candidate showing respect for one another. The election is next Tuesday.
I’m Jacob Resneck.