The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly in the 2020 election to answer a series of questions, many of which were based on suggestions from readers. Find all candidates and their answers here. (We also surveyed candidates for Anchorage School Board.)
Note: This survey was sent and candidates’ responses were collected in February, before the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus was reported in Alaska.
Candidate: Chris Constant
Occupation: Real estate licensee, nonprofit executive
Why are you running?
We have much work to do. I am excited to begin a second term to finish current projects and introduce new initiatives to make my district and all of Anchorage better. I am grateful that my neighbors seem satisfied with my efforts and that I will go through the reelection process unopposed.
What is your overall vision for Anchorage?
We face our challenges head on; our best days are ahead. We are tackling intractable problems while charting a path to a brighter future. We are facing down the ailing Port of Alaska, crime, cuts to state courts and homelessness and the state expenses onto property taxpayers. The state’s failure to properly fund its behavioral health system hurts our community. The Assembly responds to the challenge. Working with my peers to tackle these issues has been an honor. For each challenge, this Assembly is working smart and hard to not only reduce and mitigate our problems, but to put us on the right course.
My Anchorage is self-sufficient, no longer reliant on the undependable state and federal government, leading Alaska now facing a leadership vacuum. We have fought to keep your taxes from rising, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his legislative allies reneged on school bond debt reimbursement, forcing your property taxes to increase. Paying lip service to reducing the budget, they leave us holding the bag.
Cook Inlet’s 2018 earthquake revealed Anchorage’s spirit. When the shaking stopped, we remembered what matters. Partisan divides fell and neighbors checked on neighbors. Nobody asked, “are you a liberal or a conservative?” moments after the quake, paving contractors fired up their equipment repairing our critical roads without contract for payment. They demonstrated commitment and compassion for our community.
The proud members of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department fanned out across their neighborhoods knocking on every door. The same spirit showed in South, East, West and Midtown Anchorage.
My vision is we are a place where people help each other, the least among us thrive and we remain strong and self-reliant. We will build a community worthy of the legacy of our forebearers that our children will proudly call Anchorage home.
What specifically should the city do to offset the decline in revenue from the state? Are you in favor of new taxes or revenue? If so, what specifically?
I am no fan of regressive taxation schemes. General sales taxes hit low-income residents the hardest. I have a hard time asking a low-wage working parent to pay taxes on the onesie their baby needs or their crib. It may be a reality we have to face in the future, though. Especially if the state continues down its current, irrationally austere path. I believe the state has a responsibility to find new revenue. There have been discussions of a state sales tax and ongoing arguments that say, “just use revenues from the Permanent Fund to pay for government.” Again, those taxes also hit our bottom-20% income earners hardest. I have a hard time swallowing that a 2-year-old should be responsible for paying tax incentives to oil companies using PFD earnings. While I would likely support a progressive state income tax, I know this isn’t likely because, like the use of PFD earnings, it targets a small set of people, albeit a more powerful set, so the likelihood of such a tax passing is, well, I’d like to believe in unicorns. But we have to do something. I also support the return of revenue-sharing from the state to our municipality to return to the days when the state fully funds its court system, correctional facilities and provides local governments across the state with the means to ensure the education, public safety and general welfare of our communities across the state. Also, I do support the alcohol tax proposal on the ballot this April.
Should the city cut its budget? If so, where specifically would you cut spending?
For the past five years, Anchorage has cut spending in nearly every department except police and fire. We have invested substantially in the Anchorage Police Department. When the previous administration termed out, they left the city teetering. With just roughly 350 sworn police officers, they sowed the seeds of a major crisis that we have spent the last three to five years digging out from under. Because of their failure, car thefts literally spiked to almost 10 a day in the city. Over 3,000 stolen cars per year. But with robust investment in restoring our police force to a reasonable level, we have been able to cut car thefts more than in half in the last 18 months. That is just one example of what happens when we cut the budget without contemplating the impacts. I hear constituent concerns from members of the public about how this department or that department of the municipality was slow to respond or didn’t provide the services my neighbors demand. Often it is suggested that the municipal staff is somehow incompetent in their work. When I drill into the concerns and get details, most of the time, it comes down to a matter of our departments being understaffed for the workload. There is more work to be done than there are people to do it. I see this consistently across the departments. I have often heard it said that nobody — I mean nobody — ever complained that their streets were plowed too quickly or the Anchorage Police Department was there too fast. We don’t have the staffing levels essential to accomplish everything we need to as a municipality. So I am not supportive of cutting the services we have. Furthermore, any candidate who responds to this survey saying they support municipal budget cuts and the governor’s budget cuts and they have any notion to protect public safety or maintain services is either deluding themselves or lying to the voters. The governor’s cuts directly increased taxes on the municipal taxpayer. Pay really close attention to the promises being made. You can’t have it both ways. Beware of salesmen promising everything and telling you that you won’t have pay for it. You, me and all of our neighbors are already left holding the bag from the state tax shift onto the municipality.
What specific steps should the city take to address homelessness? If your vision requires funding, where would the money come from?
The complex challenge of homelessness impacts everyone.
We need enough emergency shelter, places for people to go. We can’t allow the state to drive more people onto the streets of Anchorage. This ensures that people can move quickly from places where they are harming themselves or creating public health threats to places set up to welcome and support them.
We need swift abatement to protect public health and safety. Continuously refining our abatement process will ensure that camps set up on public lands aren’t allowed to fester and grow. Our process is compliant with 9th Circuit and Alaska jurisprudence.
We need pathways out of the shelter and camps so that homelessness is brief and one-time. Critical engagement services help identify individual needs and how to connect them with the best community options. Successfully moving people off the streets requires engagement.
We need robust behavioral health care services. The state has receded so far from its commitments. The de facto waiting room for the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is on the streets and parks of Anchorage, and this is unacceptable. Anchorage is forced to deal with the unmet statewide needs.
We need affordable housing. We must create a climate supporting these developments. The question of how we fund all of this is an interesting conundrum and a real opportunity. Period. Full stop.
I have heard some mouth the falsehood that the current administration and Assembly are making Anchorage “become Seattle,” followed by the vacuous claim that what’s needed in “common sense.” If this issue were easy to solve, we would have fixed it already.
Is Anchorage on track?
The private sector believes so. The Rasmuson Foundation, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Providence Health and Services Alaska and Weidner Apartment Homes joined the Anchorage Coalition investing $40,000,000. Proof. They see the municipality strategically addressing the problems. Outcome-driven programs like Pay for Success will create linkages across providers that break down silos, provide swift abatement and cleanup, job training and much more. The long-term commitment by our local government and private and state partners is the best hope for finding a solution that works.
What is the biggest issue facing Anchorage, and how would you address it?
I believe the biggest issue facing Anchorage is the deterioration and resulting disinvestment in the urban core of Anchorage, from the Inlet to Merrill Field. We hear about the need to reinvest in our downtown. I fully agree. But we need to turn our attention to the state highways carving our downtown and the decades-long uncertainty future potential projects are having on the community now. The huge right-of-way reserve the state is holding around Gambell and Ingra is causing blight, urban decay and disinvestment. While our guiding documents like the Metropolitan Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program pay lip service to addressing the environmental and land use harms their policies are creating in the highest poverty neighborhoods on the transportation network, their actual practice is to leave the uncertainty in place for untold years to come. This appears an awful lot like an inverse condemnation of an entire section of our downtown. That condemnation is stealing value directly from property owners and contributing to the unsafe built and community environment on the entire network. I have been fighting for years to even get a study to address the negative impacts of the state taking. I have fought and secured funding for the project but the state Department of Transportation continues to de-prioritize the project, moving their focus to other areas of town. Until we address the federal highway dividing our downtown, the deterioration cannot change. I intend to continue to work with (or fight) the transportation department’s policy of indifference to our downtown as they plan, build and rebuild other areas in town whose projects and areas are either easier to work in or the residents of those areas are more privileged than those in the urban core.
What specific steps should the city take to address crime in Anchorage?
We have a duty to continue funding the Anchorage Police Department, especially dispatchers, to ensure our 911 system is as effective as possible. As we have increased the number of sworn officers by over 100, we need to increase dispatchers to ensure seamless service. I strongly support APD’s focus on developing community policing strategies. The two effective tools that have been implemented are foot patrols in certain areas and creating beat officers whose duty areas are smaller, allowing the community and the officer to build a beneficial relationship. One major thing we need to do is move back to a defined benefits retirement policy for longevity, retention and return on investment. We currently train professional police officers (and firefighters) who then move on to states who will actually pay a defined benefit retirement program. There is a bill moving through the legislature sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, that I strongly support. We have further work to do with the state of Alaska. We need a justice and corrections system funded enough to stop the revolving door from statewide correctional facilities to the streets of Anchorage. Further, our state Department of Corrections is the largest provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment services in Alaska. We are housing sick people in our jails instead of providing treatment. This is a critical component in both resolving the problem of homelessness and crime. One of my personal projects I am developing in partnership with APD and community activists is a campaign to break the cycle of bike thefts that have plagued Anchorage for a number of years. I look forward to establishing an educational and enforcement component to stop the rampant bike thefts and the chop shops that support this activity. One last plank that is important to mention: For the past several years, we have been reckoning with the nationwide opioid epidemic. As we have grappled with the criminality and community trauma of the epidemic, signs are pointing to the opioid crisis abating. But a methamphetamine crisis is on the horizon and we need to be preparing for this now.
2019 was the warmest year on record for Alaska. What should Anchorage do to address climate change?
Anchorage adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2019. The plan is visionary and far-reaching with planks for the government, residents and businesses to implement, should they choose. The most accessible plank of the action plan for most residents is waste reduction. One policy I led was the passage and implementation of the plastic bag ban that promotes people bringing their own shopping bags. The policy has been implemented smoothly. This was literally the smallest thing we, as a community, could do to address excess waste to the landfill. Another area we are focused on is energy efficiency. Anchorage installed the biggest solar array in the municipality to help power the Egan Center. It is not only environmentally sound, but economic. We are now producing power that is sold into the grid from the roof of the Egan Center. The project pays for itself. I am glad to see and will continue to support efforts like Solarize Anchorage, which is speeding up the process of improving our energy efficiency. We also tested the operation of a fully electric bus that ran in the People Mover system. I look forward to expanding the fleet of clean vehicles that operate on renewable and alternative energy We are also contemplating a waste-to-energy conversion at the landfill so that we can extend the life of the landfill and provide energy from what is currently waste.
To some the question of climate action seems like a waste of time. To others it is a cause for panic. I believe that we shouldn’t be paralyzed by projects that seem impossibly large in scale, but rather should look to the smallest things we can do quickly and do them today. Tomorrow pick the next smallest thing. Do it. And keep working until one day you find yourself solving the big problems.
How is the current Assembly doing? Are there any issues you would raise if elected?
The Assembly is a very collegial and hard-working body. This year, for the first time in years, we passed a unanimous budget. We also have developed a unanimously adopted work plan that communicates our shared values and priorities. The introduction of our shared plan identifies our priorities. I intend to keep working on these priorities with my peers. These are our priorities: As the legislative branch of the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage Assembly is charged with setting policy for the municipality. One can see this as framing the box of policy parameters and priorities. The executive branch, the mayor and the administration fills in the box, many times in consultation with the Assembly. The following pages outline the Assembly’s vision and goals for the big boxes of homelessness, quality of life, public safety and economic development. For each one of these pillars, we outline a goal, give historical context, summarize a variety of strategic sessions held by the Assembly and the Foraker Group CEO Laurie Wolf as facilitator, enumerate key questions to explore, define our role, detail short and long-term goals, list community partners and lastly, quantify how the Assembly will be accountable to the public. The Assembly began exploring the need to better define our vision in 2017 with the efforts of Assembly members Eric Croft and Fred Dyson. In 2019, under the guidance of Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, the Assembly hired Laurie Wolf to facilitate a series of three strategic visioning meetings to better define our goals for years 2019-2021. As with any true strategic plan, this should be viewed as a “living document,” subject to change and future expansion. Assembly members should consider extrapolating parts of this priorities document to fit the needs of their own districts, as this document is meant to reflect the priorities for the entire municipality, from Peters Creek to Portage.
Do you support the governor’s budget cuts?
The Port of Alaska needs at least hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize. How should port modernization be paid for?
The Port of Alaska is the most critical infrastructure project facing Anchorage. The goods that cross the docks including critical food, medicine and equipment sustains the economies in nearly 80% of Alaska communities — especially on the Railbelt and the west coast of Alaska. The Port of Alaska is essential for national defense, economic security and climate resiliency. The Port of Alaska Modernization Project (Port Modernization) is well underway. The effort to rebuild the port has faced incredible struggles over years from failed construction projects to federal lawsuits to personnel matters that have proven to be incredibly expensive. Even so, the port must stand for the future of Alaska. The Assembly recently approved a measure that provides the necessary funding to complete the petroleum and cement terminal, the first project of a three- or four-part initiative that will result in a dock for the next 50 years. As the co-chair of the Assembly Enterprise and Utility Oversight Committee with Assemblywoman Suzanne LaFrance, I have carefully attended to the process seeking buy-in from all of the stakeholders of the project, from the port users to the municipal administration to the halls of the U.S. Congress and Senate in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the last year, Assemblywoman LaFrance and I have led an effort to build unity among the parties that will prove essential in moving forward a funding package that will result in the modernized port. Port modernization will be paid for by a combination of state and federal grants, state general obligation bonds, revenue bonding and through tariffs. We are working closely with the stakeholders to identify a project scope that is necessary, affordable and will meet the needs for the next half-century.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assembly member, and any funding it might require.
I am working on a number or ordinances and legislative issues. One priority is determining once and for all if we will be expanding the Glenn to Seward Highway Connection through the east downtown, and if so, moving that process forward to provide certainty to the residents of Fairview and east downtown, who have long paid the price of state inaction. I also intend to closely steward the Port of Alaska Modernization Program at the local, state and national level. Another project I have been working on is an effort to protect public access to public lands and waters. I will work over the next three years to negotiate a solution to the Campbell Lake dilemma that protects the privacy of property owners whose properties have a section line easement while at the same time providing access to the public. A compromise is possible. I believe we can find a solution that protects the property owners’ privacy interests while honoring public access rights via the section line easement. There are other access issues that I intend to work on, like the Stewart Trail, as well. I am also glad to be working with the Anchorage Homebuilders Association on an effort to provide tax incentives for energy efficient construction. There is a bill moving in Juneau to authorize this power to the local government. The State used to provide an incentive program for energy efficiency programs. Now that those programs are dissolved, it is important for the municipality to figure out a way to continue this work. Highly energy efficient homes provide less demand on our utilities and infrastructure. There is a public value in modernizing our construction methods and the best way to achieve that is through incentive rather than edict.
There is a movement in the Eagle River/Chugiak district to secede from the Municipality of Anchorage. Where do you stand on EagleExit?
I think EagleExit is a false promise by snake oil salesmen who are trying to convince the people of Eagle River, Chugiak, Birchwood and Eklutna that their lives will be better off outside of the Municipality of Anchorage. Their argument has emotional appeal but is functionally very problematic. The tax burden EagleExit would foist upon residents of Eagle River and north is a deal breaker. Just to maintain a semblance of the same services, their taxes would skyrocket. Because of fiscal realities, the people of Eagle River stand to lose far more than they would gain from leaving. They are smart and when they weigh the costs against the benefits, they will find it in their interest to stay, despite the shouting of ideologues, who, to use a choice phrase by the statesman Fred Dyson, "have tied their knickers in a knot, lit their hair on fire and are swinging from the chandeliers” attempting to convince the good people of Eagle River that it is in their best interest to leave the Municipality. It is not.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Anchorage is a great place to live, work and play. Despite financial challenges, homelessness and crime issues, we are well-positioned for the future and I look forward to being a steward of our great city for a few more years.