The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for the Alaska Legislature in Southcentral Alaska to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Kelly Cooper | Nonaffiliated | Occupation: Owner-operator: Glacierview Cabins & Coop’s Coffee | Age: 59 | Residence: Homer | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I’ve represented Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for 6 years, and twice served as Assembly President. Prior to that I served on the South Peninsula Hospital Operating Board and Homer Chamber of Commerce Board.| www.VoteKellyCooper.com
Why are you running for office?
Public service has always been important to me. I see Alaskan politicians deeply divided by partisan bickering rather than working together to address our state’s challenges. You deserve better.
I run two businesses on my own. I know what it takes to balance a budget. I know that I have the experience and the proven leadership to make a difference for Alaska. Most importantly, I owe it to my community and my state to defend our way of life.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life in Alaska. In addition to ongoing public health threats, the state has seen serious, long-term impacts to its economy and jobs, education system, tourism and the ability for residents to travel. Have state leaders handled the pandemic effectively? Explain.
The public health response has been compassionate and effective in many ways. We are fortunate to have the lowest per capita death rate in the nation, thanks in part to our low population density. The summer has afforded us the opportunity to relax a bit with outside activities but winter is coming and we need to remain vigilant to keep our numbers from spiking.
The economic response from the Federal Government to the state was robust but it was the state’s responsibility to disperse those funds in a timely manner. We should have maximized all CARES Act dollars available to the state from day one and left nothing on the table. Instead, my opponent allowed for a confusing, drawn-out process while businesses suffered. If I were in her shoes, I would have led the charge to Juneau to fix that problem instead of waiting for someone else to fix it.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
In the short term, the best way to reduce transmission, get all of our kids back in school and allow the economy to open up is to follow CDC guidelines which includes wearing masks when indoors and physical distancing. The state should uphold those guidelines. I also understand that not every Alaskan can wear a mask -- veterans or domestic violence survivors with PTSD, those with health conditions.
Extending unemployment was the right move; the state should look to extend other economic relief efforts, including tenant protections and workers compensation claims related to COVID coming from our frontline employees. Approving a capital budget would help with infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance, and it would put Alaskans to work.
Going forward, the state needs to be prepared to act swiftly if additional relief is passed at the federal level so the dollars get to our businesses quickly without months of delays.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
We are at risk of permanent school closures on the Peninsula and in other rural communities if the budget continues to shrink. We must find a way to keep our schools open. Schools are more than just the place that our kids learn to read and write. They are the heart & soul of our communities. Schools host health fairs, sports games, spaghetti feeds, and Christmas bazaars. They offer after school activities and a safe place for kids to play. Education is my number one priority and I will defend your local schools.
Homer is in the business of boats. And that business is bursting at the seams, with years-long waitlists in some cases. The proposed Homer Port Expansion project would provide increased large vessel capacity and allow our marine trades to expand exponentially. I have already worked at the borough level to put this project before the regional SBA to get the project’s EIS paid for with CARES Act grants. I will continue to champion this project in the legislature.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We can’t cut our way out of this. I approve of keeping downward pressure on the budget and finding efficiencies, but we as Alaskans are going to have to work together to determine what new revenue we can support. I believe no revenue proposal should be considered without broad consensus.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent fund is a great success. I want the permanent fund and the dividend to be there for our grandkids. That means being prudent. Taking too much out of the Earnings Reserve is like overfishing a river because your freezer’s empty. It might help now, but it’s taking something away from future generations.
The state is projecting a $2.3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year if the Permanent Fund dividend is paid using the traditional formula in state law. If no dividend is paid, the deficit would be about $300 million. Do you support cutting services to pay a larger dividend? If so, what services would you cut first?
Since 2015 we have cut 24% or 1.1 billion from the operating budget. Without more loss of essential services like police and road maintenance I can’t see much more room to cut but I would examine all areas closely. One area for potential cuts are exempt salaries paid to political appointees.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
STEM programs in K-12 schools and support postsecondary education — whether through trade schools or universities. We must adjust to 21st-century needs while retaining the values that make our state special.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
The UA system is a known economic driver for our state. It should be supported as such. A well educated workforce can only benefit the Alaska economy as we grow in our next 50 years. We can continue to “grow our own” and keep talent in-state by educating Alaskans for in-demand careers like nursing, education, computer science, and more.
We should be gearing up to be teaching science and engineering as it relates to emerging climate change technologies along with geology and mining sciences. We have the opportunity to be a leader in this arena through our UA system.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
We can approach our state’s high rates of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (DV/SA) with immediate solutions as well as long-range approaches that build protective factors in the next generation of Alaskans. Right now, we need to make sure that the justice system has what it needs to work properly. We’ve made strides in processing the decades-old backlog of evidence, but prosecutors and public defenders are still overburdened and some rural areas have very limited public safety services.
We should also reduce the risk factors for DV/SA -- we can make sure shelters and safety net programs are accessible and inclusive, and that all Alaskans can get behavioral health services. Preventing DV/SA for the next generation starts in our community. Families need strong social support networks, access to parenting classes, and concrete support in times of need. When parents can get through tough times with those supports, they teach that resilience to their kids as well.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Increasing broadband access and affordability in rural communities will help Alaskans connect with each other, and expand the opportunities to work remotely in some of the most beautiful places on earth. I believe in diversifying our energy production to harness the power of our rivers, our winds, and the midnight sun. We have a front row seat on the effects of climate change in the Arctic, so we can seize the chance to be at the forefront of related technologies and industry.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I support responsible resource development but Pebble is not responsible.
Wrong mine, wrong place.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I believe that working with one another we can solve the challenges facing Alaska. We all want the same things: good jobs, strong schools and safe cities. Instead of looking at differences I believe we can work together to build an economically vibrant Alaska.
Thank you for your consideration in the November 3rd election.