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.
Mel Gillis | Republican | Occupation: Hunting guide / legislator | Age: 77 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I came to Alaska in 1965. I have worked as a roughneck in Cook Inlet and on the North Slope. I was a business agent for the Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 867 during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. I obtained my marriage license and hunting guide license in 1970. I am proud to say they are both still going strong! I was appointed, and confirmed, as the representative for House District 25 in 2019 | melgillis.com
Why are you running for office?
I came to Alaska in 1965 looking for opportunity and adventure. I found both. Back then there were endless opportunities for anyone that was willing to work hard. I worked on Cook Inlet oil platforms and on the North Slope. I worked construction projects around the state as a member of the Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 867. In 1970 I got my marriage license and hunting guide license. I’m proud to say both are still going strong. Our son Andrew graduated from Service High School in 1995. Last year I was appointed as the Representative for District 25. At my age I am not looking for a career in politics. After 50 years of owning and running a business, I have been through both good times and bad. I want to take my lifetime of experience to Juneau to ensure my grandkids and future generations of Alaskans have the same opportunities that I had. I believe we must protect the Permanent Fund, institute a spending cap, and get our economy back on track.
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.
Governor Dunleavy and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink have done a great job informing the public about COVID-19 and telling us what we need to do to reduce the spread. Alaska is in a much better place than other states where COVID has had a more negative impact.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The state must do all it to can to allow the private sector to come back and flourish. One thing the state can do is reduce unnecessary regulations. While economic stimulus from the state is important, the long term strategy must be to reopen the economy.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
1. How COVID has impacted our economy.
As stated above, I would work to reduce unnecessary regulations and get our economy back on track.
2. Kids not going back to school. Many parents are concerned about their kids ability to learn and the developmental impacts of not socializing with their peers.
While this is a local issue, I believe it is important that legislators do what they can to support school districts being able to safely get kids back to school.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We must live within our means. Our constitutional obligations must be the priority. Unfortunately, the truth is most of our savings are gone. The only real “savings” we have is in the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve account. It is imperative we do not squander that. We must responsibly reduce spending. We must protect Permanent Fund. I believe taxes on Alaskans should be a last resort, not a first option.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
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?
The Permanent Fund, through the Percent of Market Value (POMV) draw, provides around $3 billion a year to the state. This is crucial for the state. When the legislature passed the POMV, it changed how Alaska’s government is funded. Prior to that 90% of revenues came from oil. We are lucky to have the Permanent Fund. As far as the dividend program, since Governor Walker reduced the statutory dividend in 2015, the legislature has not followed the formula. The legislature must work together, along with the governor, to find a resolution on the dividend formula.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
No. See above answer about resolving the PFD issue.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
I believe we need a strong and vibrant University of Alaska. I also believe it is important that students graduating from the University will have the ability to earn a living with their degree. It’s not a secret that the University of Alaska is facing financial problems. Ultimately, the Board of Regents and University leadership, along with the legislature and governor, must work together to decide how the University will adapt to these challenges. I strongly believe the University needs is its land. The University of Alaska is a land-grant university, yet they have not received most of their land from the federal government. The state must insist the federal government gives the University the land its owed. This land would help the University and take a financial burden off of the state.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
Sadly, this is a problem in Alaska. We must prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, anyone who commits these horrible crimes. This requires law enforcement and prosecutors. I fully support providing the required resources to our law enforcement officials and prosecutors to combat this problem. I also support strengthening our laws for these crimes.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Alaska is rich in resources. We must do all we can to responsibly develop our resources. We must also live within our means. I believe the private sector is the key to a successful economy. I support policies which allow the private sector to flourish, because when that happens, we all win.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
As someone who has spent a lot of time in rural Alaska as a hunting guide, I have reservations about this mine. I support resource development, but it must be done responsibly. I have been a hunting guide since 1970. I know a lot of Alaskans who rely on fish and game to make their living. The fishing industry is one of Alaska’s most important industries. The question is, what threat does Pebble Mine pose to the Bristol Bay fishery? I believe it is significant enough that developing this mine leaves me with serious questions.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
Crime, jobs, fishing/hunting, getting state land in the hands of Alaskans, my age (at 77, one of Alaska’s oldest legislators, I’m lucky to be in great health!)