Alcohol tax, Kohring lend drama to Mat-Su election

Zaz Hollander
Zaz Hollander

WASILLA -- Valley voters, get ready for some drama.

Residents who belly up to the ballot box in the Mat-Su Tuesday will play a role in some serious nail-biters.

Will the Valley, a place with a party reputation and a faith-based core, approve a 5 percent alcohol tax? Will Wasilla voters redeem former Rep. Vic Kohring, convicted of federal corruption charges with a 2011 guilty plea, by electing him to city council over incumbent Brandon Wall?

The Mat-Su elections are just one of many local elections being held around the state on Tuesday. Like most local elections, turnout here tends to be low. Last year in the Mat-Su, barely more than 18 percent of registered voters came to the polls. The year before, barely 15 percent did.

Borough officials are running public-service announcements encouraging residents to vote on Tuesday.

Here's a closer look at the issues on the Mat-Su and city ballots.

Alcohol, school-road propositions

The top issue on the ballot, campaign spending-wise, is a proposed 5 percent tax on alcohol sales.

The Mat-Su Assembly proposed it to take the tax burden off property owners. The total tax on alcohol wouldn't exceed 5 percent even in cities with sales tax.

The debate over the tax has triggered a $100,000 spending war between supporters at the Mat-Su Health Foundation and opponents with Alaska CHARR, the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailer's Association.

CHARR points to the fact that in Alaska, alcohol consumption actually rose after taxes on alcohol went up. It's not fair to target one user group to pay for boroughwide services, the group says.

The Foundation bills the tax as a way to deter alcohol-related mortality and underage drinking as well as fund emergency services.

If approved, any tax revenues would go into a boroughwide general fund that's up for Assembly approval every year.

As the Assembly resolution authorizing the ballot measure puts it: "(S)ubject to annual Assembly approval and vote on the budget, the revenues from an alcoholic beverage tax will be used to fund education and areawide emergency services functions."

The other proposition on the boroughwide ballot is a $16.2 million bond package for school access roads. If passed, bonds would not be issued with a state match for the money. The state generally pays for school construction but not roads.

Projects included in the package include access to the new Knik-Goose Bay middle and high schools and a connector to access Pioneer Peak Elementary now that the new Trunk Road is open and the state plans to close the old road where Pioneer Peak is located.

Assembly and school board

Two Assembly seats are up for grabs.

Incumbent Warren Keogh opted not to run again to represent District 1, which encompasses a wide territory from Butte across to Sutton and Chickaloon to Lake Louise.

Vying for that seat are pilot Doug Glenn, founder of Glenn Air Inc., an aerial application services company, and Jim Sykes, a one-time U.S. Senate candidate, former Alaska Green Party co-chair and former president of the Lazy Mountain Community Council.

Incumbent Noel Woods is running again to represent District 2, Palmer after being elected to his first term in 2011. His opponent is Matthew Beck. Woods is a retired general contractor. Beck is a co-owner of North Star Animal Hospital in Palmer.

Two seats are up for election on the school board.

One incumbent, Palmer bookstore owner David Cheezem, faces challenger Ray Michaelson, superintendent of the Mat-Su Youth Facility and also a Palmer resident.

The other incumbent, Wasilla's Neal Lacy, faces three challengers: Donna Dearman, of Talkeetna; Stephen Jacobson, of Wasilla; and Jim Tapley, of Sutton.


There are two contested city council races in Wasilla.

Seat F is getting most of the attention: it's Kohring's first bid for council against Wall, appointed to the position last year to replace Steve Menard who was ousted in a voter recall. The two men share political leanings, with both self-identifying as fiscal conservatives. Wall is group operations manager for a facility-systems contractor in Anchorage that executes projects around Alaska.

Kohring, a seven-term House member, was one of six legislators charged and convicted in the corruption scandal that surfaced with FBI raids in 2006. He issued a statement when he filed for office in July saying it was "time to move on" but also apologizing for what he called his carelessness in taking "small gifts" from "friends." Kohring admitted taking $1,000 from former VECO chairman Bill Allen.

In the other race, three newcomers are running for Seat A: Holly M. Herrick; David S. Wilson; and Glenda D. Ledford.

City voters also get to decide whether they want the city sales tax to go up by 1 percent to fund the library.

Palmer and Houston

In Palmer, incumbent mayor DeLena Johnson faces a challenge from city councilor Linda Combs, wife of the city's former mayor, John Combs.

Combs is a former bank officer, bookeeper, and school payroll manager. Johnson is former Palmer museum director.

Four candidates - including incumbents Edna DeVries and Kathrine Vanover - are competing for two three-year council terms. The challengers in that race are Elden Tritch and Steven Carrington.

In Houston, one contested seat is on the ballot: Ron Gaffney is running against James Johansen for Seat E.

Houston voters will also decide whether to repeal a Jan. 1 2014 expiration date for a 2 percent additional sales tax on fireworks, with the additional revenue to go toward promoting "increased public safety."

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.