The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Stephanie Taylor | District: 5 | Age: 59 | Occupation: Homemaker | stephanieforak.com
What is a short summary of your background?
Stephanie Taylor has been an Anchorage resident since 1970, when the Air Force stationed her dad at Elmendorf Air Force Base. She graduated from Dimond High School and earned her BA at Seattle Pacific University. Stephanie has resided in East Anchorage since 1989 when she married her husband, Mike. They have five children ages 17 to 29. She has spent the last 30 years raising and homeschooling their children and doing lots of volunteer work. Stephanie has volunteered for numerous organizations and political campaigns. Most recently, Stephanie served as the Alaska State Coordinator for TeenPact Leadership Schools, 2017-2021. She decided to run for Assembly after watching Anchorage decline over the past few years. Stephanie believes in limited government, personal liberty and fiscal responsibility.
Why are you running?
I have been a resident of Anchorage for 51 years. I love this city and care about my neighbors and community. I have been very dissatisfied with what I’ve seen over the last few years: Homelessness has risen to historic highs, based on what I’ve seen in my 51 years in Anchorage, businesses have been crippled by overreaching regulations, and people have been overburdened by taxes with little to no results to justify it. I am running, not because I desire a career in politics, but because I want to help find solutions for the problems we face in order to revitalize our beloved city.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage Assembly?
As a longtime resident, I have a unique perspective and insight into the history of our city, and personal concern for its well-being. I have served this city through decades of volunteer work and have reared and homeschooled our five children who are all successful, caring, and responsible members of their communities. I know this city inside and out, and my active community participation has led to fresh ideas and the ability to work alongside people from all walks of life. I respect my neighbors and have the ability to listen well and make reasonable decisions for the good of all.
What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?
The most important and urgent problem facing Anchorage is the homelessness crisis. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye toward the suffering of our homeless neighbors. It speaks volumes about our community when there is so much visible suffering around us. Anchorage has several nonprofit organizations that have successfully addressed this issue and helped individuals experiencing homelessness transition from the street into productive lives. The problem has grown so big that these organizations cannot address this problem on such a large scale, but if we partner with these agencies and pattern our solutions after their model, we can make a real difference.
What is the most important problem facing your district? How would you address it?
The main issues of District 5 are not unlike issues facing many districts in the city: homelessness, lack of motivated workers to fill jobs and poor street maintenance. I’ve already addressed the homelessness crisis in the previous question. We need to encourage people who were laid off during the pandemic to get back into the workforce. Able-bodied individuals need to get back into the workforce instead of becoming dependent on unemployment. As for our street maintenance, I would like to investigate other approaches to snow removal. If we approach snow removal differently, it could result in an overall reduction in road repair costs.
What is your vision of the role of local government in Anchorage?
The primary focus of local government should be to provide basic services that people cannot provide for themselves. Basics like road maintenance, snow removal, electricity, water, and waste management are among these essential services – services that affect everyone. Law-abiding residents need to feel safe with adequate police protection and emergency/fire services. The Assembly is also responsible for making sure our schools operate with prudence and serve our communities well. Those basic needs cover about 70% of the municipal budget. I believe that when the local government gets too much control and money, power shifts away from the people and can often lead to corruption and chaos. As Assembly members, we must guard against thinking we know better than the people we serve.
Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.
I believe that the people elected Mayor Bronson as a clear message to the Assembly of their dissatisfaction with the Assembly’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Mayor Bronson’s leadership, Public Works has streamlined, simplified, and integrated the permitting process for builders and contractors. Since he took office, he has proposed solutions to our homelessness crisis. While his proposal may have had some issues, the discussion could have moved us closer to a workable solution. The mayor and the Assembly need to be able to find common ground to solve the urgent issues of our city. He has also attempted to reduce the budget to a reasonable degree and has been hampered from doing so by our current Assembly. I would work with the duly elected mayor to help bring the best solutions possible in the time we have. No solution will be perfect, and I am not looking to rubber-stamp the actions of the mayor, but to be open to working with him to make progress toward shared goals.
Rate the performance of the current Assembly. Explain, with specific examples.
The reason I’m running for office is because this Assembly has broken trust with the residents of Anchorage; made decisions that have exacerbated the homelessness crisis and contributed to the crippling of our local businesses, hampering the economic potential of our city. When navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not the time to place additional burdens on local businesses, unfairly discriminating against them by deciding which businesses could operate and which could not. This Assembly took it upon themselves to arbitrarily decide under what capacity those businesses could operate. They also limited and at times even shut down public testimony which alienated them even further from hurting residents. They used federal dollars to pour money into temporary homeless shelter without a long-term plan for getting these residents off the streets and developing life skills to thrive. They make no apologies for their policies that have negatively impacted businesses small and large. And their plans are too little, too late for many businesses that have already been lost.
What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?
Reducing homelessness and mitigating crime will go a long way toward improving Anchorage’s economy. People will be drawn to shopping and visiting the downtown area when they can do so without the risk of encountering potentially dangerous situations. It will also improve tourism and traffic. As businesses reopen and recover from the lockdowns, people will begin patronizing shops and restaurants again. We need to attract new entrepreneurs to our city, but they must not be burdened with unnecessary taxes or heavy regulations.
What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?
Bean’s Café, Hope Center, and the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission are all successfully transitioning people experiencing homelessness into productive lives. We could partner with these organizations and duplicate their models on a larger scale. Almost everyone can contribute to the larger community in some way. When people learn life skills and job skills, they are better equipped to become contributing members of the community. They gain confidence and move toward a more hope-filled and productive future. Another strategy would be to research other cities that have successfully addressed homelessness and learn from them.
What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? How would you improve it?
We should consider ways to improve access to the Mat-Su from Anchorage. We need to have more than one way in and out. Of course, the Port of Alaska is probably the most important transportation need that should be addressed. The Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood has ongoing needs for safety improvements.
Does the city do a good job of running municipal elections? Would you push for changes? Explain.
The switch to mail-in elections did not yield the expected outcomes. The system was supposed to be less costly and increase voter turnout. Instead, it complicated a simple process, at great expense. Mail-in voting has also resulted in a significant lack of voter confidence in the integrity of the election process. When people lack confidence in the voting system, voter turnout is affected. Absentee voting has always been a great option for those unable to get to the polls on election day. By returning to in-person voting in November, we could reduce costs by combining with the state elections and receive more timely election results.
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?
The civic discord has primarily been a direct result of stringent COVID-19 policies enacted by the former administrations and Assembly. This level of unrest could have been avoided if the local leadership had placed their confidence in the people of Anchorage to make medical decisions for themselves instead of adopting a “one-size-fits-all” policy. I would work to improve the quality of civic discourse by respecting and listening to constituents and erring on the side of liberty and personal autonomy. Alaskans are an independent people and should be respected for the choices they make for themselves, their businesses, and their families.
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, that election was called almost 18 months ago. The events on January 6, 2021, were unfortunate. We will likely never get the full story of what happened on that day.
What’s one thing that makes you hopeful about Anchorage’s future?
I am hopeful about the possibilities with a new administration, the hope for new leadership on the Anchorage Assembly, and citizens who are more civically engaged than some of them have ever been before.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
I would like to do my part in helping heal any racial divides that might exist in our city and in our nation. Racism is something any fallible human being is capable of no matter what color of skin they have. As a Black woman who’s lived here for most of my life, I can attest to the overall sense of racial acceptance I’ve felt from my community. I know that is not the case for everyone. We have a very diverse community when it comes to both race and politics. Respect is not only important to demonstrate toward those who look differently, but even more difficult to provide for those who think differently. We need to relearn the art of respect and healthy boundaries. In the end we may still disagree, but we can come to a greater understanding and begin building stronger bridges of trust together. I’m ready to listen and have the hard conversations on the Anchorage Assembly.