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More on the Fairbanks Alaska state Senate race: Kelly and Coghill

Amanda CoyneThe New York Times
Aaron Jansen illustration

Apparently, there’s no end to the amount of flak that a political reporter gets days before an election -- particularly if she screws up days before an election. On Sunday, I published a story about Fairbanks and about the political races there. The response hasn’t been all great.

The Fairbanks vote might very well decide the fate of the Alaska state Senate bipartisan coalition. And if it holds, the oil companies are unlikely to get the up to $2-billion annual tax break that they, and Gov. Sean Parnell, have been pushing.

In one race, Democrat incumbent Sen. Joe Paskvan is being challenged by former lawmaker Pete Kelly. In the Sunday piece, I wrote that while Kelly was in the House wasn’t an amiable lawmaker. He was reputed to be hot-headed, caustic and according to the Anchorage Daily News, in need of a civics class.

He promises to be the fiscally conservative candidate, the one who will cut state government. After he left office and for about five years, he was a lobbyist for the University of Alaska, which is state-funded. Since 2009 he’s been working for Gov. Sean Parnell as a special assistant, doing what, nobody really knows.

He’s also reported to be either on his way to being, or is walking Indonesia's soil right now. Something, perhaps, about a mission trip. It’s hard to confirm much concerning Kelly because he doesn’t return phone calls.

I’m sticking to what I wrote about Kelly. But where I arguably messed up was in my analysis of the other race. That one, due to redistricting, pits two incumbent senators against one another: Republican John Coghill against Democrat Joe Thomas.

Both are long-time Alaskans. Both are well-respected and well-liked.

That’s all well and good, but I didn’t mention a few things about Coghill’s record. One, he’s voted against and then voted for, and then sometimes against again, nearly every energy bill that was presented to him, claiming that he wanted the free market to work its magic.

The free market hasn’t worked too well for Fairbanks. Now, because of the cost of heating fuel, many residents have taken to heating their homes with wood.

Coghill’s major issue is family values, he says. If he could, he would outlaw abortion in all cases, even if the life of the mother is at risk. But in an interview, he didn’t stress the abortion issue. For him, family values means helping a family from conception until old-age, he said.

In 2007, at a time of high oil prices and bulging state coffers, he voted to kill SeniorCare, a program to help low-income seniors. At that time, to qualify, a couple couldn’t make more than $21,641 a year. A single senior citizen could make only $16,133.

Coghill’s father, the former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, is 87 years old. The junior Coghill spends a good part of his days helping him. He takes the morning shift. His sister has the afternoon shift.

What I should have said in my story is that Jack’s really fortunate that he has a son who cares about family values. Not everyone is so lucky. 

Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com