The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Gretchen Wehmhoff | District: 2 | Age: 63 | Occupation: Educator and newspaper publisher | teamgretchen.com
What is a short summary of your background?
I’ve lived in the Municipality of Anchorage since 1965, attending Willow Crest and Dimond-Mears Jr./Sr. High School. In 1988, I started teaching at Chugiak High School. In 1995 my husband and I moved to Chugiak. I have a B.A. in Speech Communication from the University of Denver and an M.S. in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from Creighton University School of Law. I was on the Assembly for four months in 2019. I’ve served as chair of the Public Transportation Advisory Board, chair of the Water District Task Force for Birchwood and as vice-chair of the Birchwood Community Council. Most of my life has been spent volunteering with organizations such as the Alaska Girl Scouts, Arctic Winter Games, Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman, Alaska Writer’s Guild and Alaska Women for Political Action.
Why are you running?
We need strong and respectful leadership from District 2. Chugiak-Eagle River is a wonderful community of good, involved and hardworking people. We are not accurately reflected by current politics. We need representation by Assembly members who have deep and long-term connections with our district.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage Assembly?
In addition to my work on different boards and my time on the Assembly, I am a communicator, I have the life experience from teaching and living in my district and the ability to pull conversations together for productive results. I play well with others.
What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?
We are recovering from the challenges of the pandemic, which came close behind a serious earthquake. Residents are trying to get back to normal in a climate of anger, mistrust and impatience. We need to encourage and facilitate conversations with people who are looking at things from different perspectives. We can’t get to solutions without getting together to solve them.
What is the most important problem facing your district? How would you address it?
Chugiak Eagle River has a strong comprehensive plan, different zoning rules and policies than most of Anchorage. As developers look to the area for development opportunities, we need to both protect our way of life while revisiting our comprehensive plan. However, a major issue is a PR issue. Our district has been seen in a negative light due to the aggressive and intolerant behavior of a few.
What is your vision of the role of local government in Anchorage?
Local government should reflect the community in clear and cooperative means. Local government needs to be as open and productive as possible. Infighting and rude behavior from our representatives does not encourage public participation. In fact, it deters collaboration and enables intimidation.
Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.
While the mayor may have run on what he believed to be true and worthy intentions, his lack of legislative understanding and inability to follow understood policies and collaborative behavior has impeded his ability to build trust and lead with transparency and humility.
Rate the performance of the current Assembly. Explain, with specific examples.
In general, the Assembly has attempted to maintain professionalism, but the constant stress of trying to get work done with those who don’t value the democratic process has slowed down the people’s business.
What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?
It’s important to evaluate why people are not returning to work. With the omicron variant infecting thousands a day, businesses, school, hospitals and public safety entities were working short-handed. Now we have to determine if child care, concern for family members or relocation has impacted return to work. It’s not just an Anchorage issue. Tourism businesses around the state are struggling to hire seasonal workers. We need to make sure we have affordable housing, substantial child care and effective public transportation.
What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?
Finding housing and immediate health care for our homeless population is imperative. When people have basic needs met, they will see themselves as valued and capable. We need to help them get on with their lives. We need more immediate services for mental health and addiction
What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? How would you improve it?
We often overlook public transportation as a vital part of our infrastructure. Chugiak-Eagle River has not received the public transportation attention it needs — not only between Anchorage and Eagle River, but within the community and JBER.
Does the city do a good job of running municipal elections? Would you push for changes? Explain.
The mail-in ballots have increased participation in our elections. I believe the municipality, through our clerk’s office and election workers, has done a good job.
The past two years have been marked by increased civic discord in Anchorage. How would you improve the quality of civic discourse in the city?
We have to engage in conversations with people whose views differ from ours. It will take all members of our Assembly and administration to embrace open conversations. The tough part of this will be building trust. I know I’m ready to have those conversations.
Do you acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election? Also, what are your thoughts on what took place on Jan. 6, 2021 in the U.S. Capitol?
Yes. I accept the results of the 2020 election. I, like so many in our country, was alarmed and deeply saddened by the citizens who had been led, through propaganda and lies, to take action they would normally condemn. Patriotism involves coming together to protect our country — not attack our Capitol, our vice president and Congress or the hundreds of police officers tasked with protecting them from enemies of our country. I’m still troubled that there are some who are defending the attack.
What’s one thing that makes you hopeful about Anchorage’s future?
The youth. When I look at the resolve in my grandchildren who recently lost their mother, our daughter, I have hope. They see the planet and their lives in a more appreciative perspective than most adults.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
I would like to discuss the impact the process of determining certificate of need has on our citizens who need mental health care and treatment for opioid addiction and alcoholism.